Sharp increase in hate crimes has Mass. legislators looking to tighten laws – Milford Daily News

Posted: May 24, 2021 at 8:21 pm

Kami Rieck| Boston University Statehouse Program

BOSTON A sharp increase in incidents of hate, particularly directed at Asian Americans, has prompted lawmakers to file legislation to strengthen the states hate crime statute, provide better training to recognize bias and redefine penalties for breaking the law.

State Rep. Tram Nguyen, D-Andover, and state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, recently joined forces with Attorney General Maura Healey in an effort to protect women and immigrants as targets of hate crimes; escalate penalties for repeat offenders; combine civil rights and hate crimes statutes into one section of the law; allow for harsher sentencing for severe offenses without creating mandatory minimums; and create clearer definitions of hate crimes.

Not only do we want more clarity on the law to specify exactly what hate crimes are so that they could be applied more fairly and accurately, but they're also providing officers with additional training to recognize what bias-motivated crimes are, Nguyen said.

The current hate crime law in Massachusetts is defined as one committed because of a persons race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Hinds said the rise in hate crimes against the African American, Asian American, LGBTQ+ and Jewish communities made clear the need to propose changes to the current law.

The urgency of taking a stand against violent bigotry has just felt more and more poignant in the past several years, Hinds said. So moving this quickly feels important.

The rise in anti-Asian hate crimes has risen in the past year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The national organization Stop AAPI Hate received 67 reports from Massachusetts of anti-Asian discrimination 3,800 incidents nationwide from March 19 through Dec. 31 of last year, according to data.

In 2019, the Anti-Defamation League reported 2,107 hate crimes against Jewish people nationwide. Thatwas the highest number of hate crimes the ADL has tracked in its history. November 2020 federal data show crimes based on sexual orientation represent 16.7% of hate crimes, according to the Human Rights Campaign. In 2020, Black people were targeted in hate crimes more than any other group in the U.S., according to an FBI report.

Support for the changes is not universal.

State Rep. Peter Durant, R-Spencer, said the bill violates the First Amendment and allows for a subjective way of defining assault.

I think any time that we tinker with First Amendment protections or any protections afforded us under the Constitution, we have to be very careful, he said. This bill, while it does some good things in the form of increasing penalties for certain crimes, I think it takes a very precarious step towardlimiting your First Amendment rights.

Nguyen made clear that hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment.

Janhavi Madabushi, director of the Massachusetts Bail Fund, said prosecuting violence more stringently does not uproot racism or prevent violence.

Legislators should not bring forth bills that expand prosecuting powers and criminal charges if they want to combat racism, Madabushi wrote in an email. This is harm that ultimately vulnerable communities will be tasked with undoing.

There needs to be systemic solutions to address violence in all of its forms, said Carolyn Chou, executive director of the Asian American Resource Workshop. Increasing penalties could have unintended consequences that would harm communities of color, she said.

"More law enforcement has been shown, time and time again, to not prevent violence, but rather to add additional layers of violence and harm," Chou wrote in an email. We need to emphasize community response and support, deep dialogue between oppressed communities and transformative justice, as well as broader solutions like language access, data equity and ethnic studies."

Hinds said the new bill would do that by improvinglaws currently in place and giving discretion to judges to sentence accordingly and appropriately. The legislation will improve entire communities by addressing violence, he said.

We're also clarifying that we're not talking about First Amendment-protected expressions of hate, Hinds said. But instead being clear that we're prohibiting violent, threatening and destructive conduct.

State Rep. Tackey Chan, D-Quincy, supports the proposed changes because he believes the current law is vague and leaves too much interpretation as to whetheran attack is a hate crime. Many minorities and immigrants make up Quincy, and Chan said underreporting of hate crimes shows a clear need to clean up the statute.

I think it's a good first step in this conversation on hate crimes," Chan said. "I like to think of myself as an understanding person trying to learn, but there are certain things that are like, let's call like it is. I mean, if you target people to kill people because of what they look like or who they are.

The bill has been assigned to the Legislatures Judiciary Committee for a public hearing and review. Thirty House lawmakers and eight senators signed in support of the bill.

On April 22, the U.S. Senate passed a hate crime bill in response to the recent rise of anti-Asian discrimination. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, would expedite the Department of Justices review of COVID-19 hate crimes.

The bill also requires the DOJ to issue guidance for state and local law enforcement agencies on how to establish online hate crime reporting processes in multiple languages and how to expand culturally competent education campaigns.

For Nguyen, passing the new hate crimes law ensures that bias-motivated crimes are prosecuted and allows prosecutors and the judiciary to have clear guidance to look into motivating factors.

She also acknowledged that creating a new hate crime statute is only one part of addressing these pressing issues.

The bill is not meant to address the hate and violence, Nguyen said. To confront the root of human violence, she said there also needs to be racially and culturally inclusive education, despoliation of prejudices and biases people have, more resources for victims of hate crimes and new police and bystander intervention training.

This bill is looking to hold perpetrators who caused harm to communities accountable and to make sure that we are calling the hate crimes out so that we are signaling to communities that they matter, she said.

Originally posted here:
Sharp increase in hate crimes has Mass. legislators looking to tighten laws - Milford Daily News

Related Post