On March 7, a potentially historic bipartisan bill passed the Georgia House of Representatives, bringing it one step closer to possibly becoming law. This legislation, HB 426, would allow Georgia to finally join the ranks of 45 other states that have officially codified laws banning hate crimes.
Although the Georgia General Assembly passed a bill outlawing hate crimes in 2000, the law was eventually overturned by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2004 as it was deemed “unconstitutionally vague,” since it outlawed crimes based on prejudices without explicitly naming such biases, such as those based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. Thus, Georgia became one of only five states – alongside Arkansas, Indiana, South Carolina, and Wyoming – that did not offer legal protections against hate crimes.
Hate crimes continue to be a major problem across the United States, with members of the LGBTQIA community the most likely to be targeted. For example, one-fifth of the 5,462 hate crimes that were reported to the FBI in 2014 were in response to either the victim’s perceived or actual sexual orientation. However, intersectionality also plays a major role, as the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reports that most of the LGBTQIA individuals who have been killed as a result of hate crimes were either African-American or Hispanic.
Unfortunately, the numbers of hate crimes have proportionally been on the rise in recent years, with over 6,000 hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2016 and over 7,000 in 2017. Yet, since most hate crimes are not in fact reported, the actual number of such crimes could be substantially larger. The Southern Poverty Law Center currently lists 1020 hate groups as having an active presence in the United States, and many of these groups are dedicated to white supremacist, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT, and anti-immigrant causes, among others.
What makes hate crimes unique is that they are intended to not only injure the victim, but also send a message of intolerance to the entire community to which the individual belongs. This in turn can leave members of certain marginalized groups feeling vulnerable and unprotected.
Although there have been various efforts over the past few years to create a “hate-free” Georgia, a bill comparable to HB 426 did not pass committee last year, as some legislators argued that all crimes are hate crimes and that creating specific legislation on the topic was unnecessary. However, hate crimes are distinctive from other crimes in the fact that they are “traditional offense[s]…with the added element that the motivation is a bias based on race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation,” as defined by the FBI.
The current bill at hand, HB 426, which is based on federal anti-discrimination law and is supported by the Anti-Defamation League, would result in sentences of up to one year for misdemeanor hate crimes and up to two years for felony offenses based on such prejudices. While it still faces a long legislative road ahead, as it must pass through Georgia Senate as well, this hate crime bill could definitely have a major long-lasting impact on the lives of thousands of Georgians.
Badertscher, Nancy. 2015, June 30. Georgia one of a handful of states without hate crime laws. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved from: https://www.ajc.com/news/state–regional-govt–politics/georgia-one-handful-states-without-hate-crime-laws/gRQjwalzydEshsZGyBB3gN/
Community Safety. 2019. Georgia Equality. Retrieved from: https://georgiaequality.org/issues/public-safety/
Georgia hate crime bill passes House Committee. 2019, Feb. 27. Marietta Daily Journal. Retrieved from: https://www.mdjonline.com/neighbor_newspapers/news/state/georgia-hate-crimes-bill-passes-house-committee/article_360d60e5-48f1-59cb-9680-30177405474a.html
State Maps of Laws and Policies. 2019, Jan. 30. Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved from: https://www.hrc.org/state-maps/hate-crimes
Park, Haeyoun and Mykhyalyshyn, Iaryna. 2016, June 21. Hate crimes now directed at LGBT people the most. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved from: https://www.ajc.com/news/hate-crimes-now-directed-lgbt-people-the-most/qvA1mpR2rAgNsdvnym1OGI/
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