Advocates push Mississippi to expand hate crime laws

Published 9:38 am Sunday, February 6, 2022

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JACKSON (AP) — Activists used a Monday press conference, ahead of a key legislative deadline, to request lawmakers take up a bill expanding the state’s hate crime laws to include violence motivated by sexual orientation or disability.

“When we believe that we are created in the image of God, that’s everybody, full stop,” the Rev. Warren Coile said at the Human Rights Campaign’s press conference, in front of the Mississippi State Capitol.

House Bill 1467 is before Judiciary B, a House committee chaired by Rep. Nick Bain, R-Corinth, that deals with revisions to the state’s criminal statutes. Committees have until Tuesday to act on bills originating in their own chambers.

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The bill would not create any new crimes, but would allow for longer sentences if it could be proven in court the crimes were motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation or disability.

“This crucial update of Mississippi’s hate crime law would simply bring our state law up to the federal standard,” said Rob Hill, state director for the Human Rights Campaign in Mississippi. “Mississippi is all too familiar with cases of hate violence aimed at the LGBTQ+ community.”

A version of this bill came before lawmakers each of the last four years and has never made it out of committee, Hill said.

Last year was the most dangerous on record for transgender and gender nonconforming people, with at least 50 killed nationwide, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Two of the 50, Dominique Jackson and Mel Groves, were in Jackson.

Coile, a Methodist minister, said he didn’t think much of violence against LGBTQ people until his nephew was attacked by classmates in a school hallway more than five years ago because they thought he was gay.

“Things really don’t sink in until they get to be personal,” Coile said.

Mississippi’s physically and intellectually disabled would also see strengthened protections under the bill. About 1.4% of more than 11,000 hate crime victims in 2020 were targeted because of their disability, according to FBI data. For comparison, about 20% of victims were targeted because of their sexual orientation.

“We have ample reason to believe that is vastly under reported,” Scott Crawford, a board member of the Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities, said.

He said many disabled victims don’t report crimes because their assailant is often someone close to them that provides needed assistance to help them go about their daily lives.

Coile said people in a state where most of the residents are Christian should want to love their neighbors, regardless of who they are, in the spirit of the Bible.

“I urge our legislature to pass this bill because violence against any against anyone, purely because of who they are or who they are perceived to be, is wrong,” he said.