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Kentucky legislators pushing for stronger hate crime laws

Published: Mar. 19, 2021 at 11:29 PM EDT
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There are 47 states across the country that have a hate crime law, but not all of them require...
There are 47 states across the country that have a hate crime law, but not all of them require reporting of any hate crime incident.(WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The Asian American Community is shaken and grieving following Tuesday’s deadly shootings in Atlanta that killed eight people. Six of them were Asian American women.

The Fairness Campaign, a Kentucky LGBTQ civil rights organization, says they want to call attention to what’s happening.

“We just want to add our voices to saying we’ve got to pay attention it’s got to end,” Chris Hartman, the executive director of the Fairness Campaign said. “There is not an identity in which LGBTQ people do not overlap. So any issue targeting them based on their race, based on their gender, based on their disability status, based on their religion, origin, based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, it all matters and it’s all connected.”

The shootings in Atlanta are testing hate crime laws and causing people to look at their state laws.

Matt Goldberg with the Jewish Federation of Louisville said the increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans in the last year is very very disturbing to him and the Jewish community.

“The Jewish community knows very well what it’s like to be victims of hate crimes. Incidents of anti-Semitism have grown exponentially in the last few years,” Goldberg said. “So our antennas are up when we see acts like this directed against any specific group for their race or for their religion or for their ethnicity of country of origin. We are particularly in tune, we are particularly worried about that. We know that marginalized communities, we’re all in the same boat. So when we see something like this happen, we make sure that our voice is known that Louisville and Kentucky know exactly where the Jewish community is on these issues.”

Goldberg believes more needs to be done with Kentucky’s hate crime laws.

“We want a hate crimes law to really be a message to people of Kentucky that these kids of attacks, these kinds of incidents, whether they are small incidents or huge incidents like we saw in Atlanta, this is not tolerated here in the Commonwealth,” he said.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 49 states and territories have hate crime laws, but they differ:

  • Seven states and territories do not have any hate crime laws and do not require any data collection.
  • Eighteen states have a hate crime law in place, but do not require any data on incidents to be collected.
  • Thirty-one states have both hate crime laws in effect and require data to be collected on incidents.

That data helps them provide “better transparency into crimes that are occurring and help states allocate support and resources to communities in greatest need,” the U.S. Justice Department website says.

In Kentucky, the current hate crime law only applies to some offenses, like rape, assault, kidnapping, arson and rioting.

Some legislators say the law needs to be improved.

Kentucky Democratic Senator Morgan McGarvey said he has introduced hate crime bills for three legislative sessions.

In October, McGarvey, Democratic Senator Gerald Neal and Republican Senator Julie Raque Adams, announced they were working with Commonwealth Attorney Tom Wine to write a bill that would strengthen Kentucky’s hate crimes laws.

“We need it and we don’t have it here,” McGarvey told WAVE 3 News on Friday. “You hate to see these acts like we just saw in Atlanta. It’s just awful and it’s terrible. There is no silver-lining to it but I do hope it spurs people to act in Frankfort the last couple of days of the session.”

McGarvey said the new proposed legislation would increase penalties if someone was convicted of a hate crime in the state.

“You aren’t convicted of a hate crime off the bat,” McGarvey said, explaining the proposed bill. “If you paint a a swastika on the side of a synagogue, you have to be convicted of the underlying offense of vandalism and then you can add as a penalty to that a hate crime.”

He said a jury or judge would be the ones to decide if the underlying crime was motivated by hate against a certain group.

“The importance of a hate crime bill is not just making sure these acts are adequately punished, but it’s sending the signal that they are wrong,” he said. “When you commit a hate crime, you’re not just hurting one person, you’re attacking an entire community. And that’s something we all need to stand against.”

Representative Nima Kulkarni told WAVE 3 News she would like to see increase penalties for hate crime convictions, adding there needs to be more education on where to report incidents.

“We need to look at the patterns of behavior,” she said. “There need to be places where you can report patterns of behavior. Whether that’s discrimination, harassment, assault, abuse, online or in person and that’s something we do not have in our current hate crimes legislation.”

McGarvey is hopeful the stronger hate crime law will pass this session.

“It’s got bipartisan support,” he said. “We’re heading to the end of the session when a lot of things typically get done. I’m going to remain optimistic we can accomplish it this session. If not, it’s not something I’m going to give up on.”

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