Saturday, February 19, 2011

Alaska State Senator Bettye Davis Once Again Pushing Hate Crimes Legislation; This Time It's Called SB11

Alaska's only Black legislator is pushing hate crimes legislation once again. State Senator Bettye Davis (D-East Anchorage) has filed SB11, and it's co-sponsored by two other Democrats, Sen. Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage) and Sen. Hollis French (D-Anchorage). Note how it's always Democrats promoting this divisive nonsense. As of this post, the bill has been referred to the Judiciary and Finance Committees, which is standard for all bills.

This is not the first time Sen. Davis has pushed hate crimes legislation. During the 2010 session, she sponsored a similar bill, then designated SB202. It got buried in committee and never made it to the floor for a vote. There's also been at least one other session during which she sponsored hate crimes legislation -- it got similarly spiked.

-- Read the full text of SB11 HERE.

Update February 25th: The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill to the Finance Committee without amendments, with only Sen. John Coghill (R-North Pole) objecting. "This is not about speech," said Sen. Hollis French (D-Anchorage), a co-sponsor of the bill. "There is not a preacher in the state who will be charged with whatever comes from this bill."

SB11 is relatively uncomplicated. It simply permits a prosecutor to consider bumping up charges for a crime by one degree if the prosecutor believes that prejudice, bias, or hate for a lengthy laundry list of protected classes, including race, sex, color, creed, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, ancestry, or national origin can be proven. For example, if the prosecutor believes "hate" can be proven, he can choose to bump up a class A misdemeanor charge to a class C felony charge. And so forth.

Since everyone under this bill can find refuge in at least one protected class, this means in theory that any perpetrator, regardless of the variables, would be equally likely to be charged with a hate crime if they meet the threshold. But in practice, this has not always been the case. Some prosecutors in the lower 48 have been quicker to charge Whites with a hate crime than a Black under similar circumstances. In addition, how is prejudice, bias, or hate to be defined? If, for example, ABT Pastor Jerry Prevo was arrested because of a confrontation with a gay man, would he be charged with a hate crime simply because he preaches against homosexuality in his Sunday sermons? The persecution of Pastor Stephen Boissoin in Canada makes this question valid.

SB11 is also redundant in character; it doesn't really confer any powers upon prosecutors not already available. For example, prejudice, bias, or hate can be construed as premeditation. Prosecutors customarily charge those accused of premeditated crimes with a higher class misdemeanor or felony than they do in crimes of passion or negligence. So this is, for all intents and purposes, little more than a feelgood bill, the type which clutters up the legislative docket and enables lawmakers to claim that a 90 day session is not long enough to do their jobs. This latter concern provides the foundation for the Anchorage Daily Planet's objection to the bill:

Our question is this - and always has been with silly hate-crime measures - isn’t violence against minorities, religious groups and the homeless already a crime? Why is it necessary to make crimes against one group more serious than those committed against another? If it is a crime, it is a crime. Period.

But a much more cogent and meticulous case against hate crimes legislation was made by Alaska Voices columnist Kevin Clarkson in 2010. His essay entitled "Are Crime Victims Equal?" is still available online and is worth a read. Clarkson says an inherent danger that hate crime laws could actually criminalize speech:

As Public defender Quinlan Steiner said, criminalizing motive is unusual, difficult to prove in court and may lead to putting defendants' comments and speech on trial. If a person who commits a crime happens to have made derogatory or “hateful” comments in the past based upon race or sexual orientation, the penalty for their crime could be enhanced based solely upon their past speech, or current thoughts or beliefs. State of mind, intent or knowledge, generally plays into determining the specific crime someone committed, but that is different than criminalizing speech, thoughts and beliefs, which we don't usually do here in the United States.

The Alaska Civil Liberties Union (AkCLU) and the Alaska Family Council also have objections. While the AkCLU supports the expansion of the hate-crime definitions in principle, they believe it could be interpreted to mean that any crime could be charged as a hate crime if prosecutors can prove a person is prejudiced in any way, regardless of whether or not that prejudice motivated the crime. And Jim Minnery, president of the Alaska Family Council, said he believes the legal system already offers adequate punishments for crimes, and that the law would just create unnecessary protections and lead to religious persecution. "They're using this law to muzzle those having a traditional view on homosexuality," a view Minnery said was defined by the belief that homosexuality is unnatural and not condoned by the Bible. "Everyone has some kind of hatred going on. How do you distinguish between hatred and crime?"

Even if SB11 is passed by the State Senate, which is unlikely, it won't pass the more conservative State House. But we must remain vigilant.

1 comment:

  1. "Oiy, vat a frien ve haff in Judens..."