A broad coalition of civil rights organizations stood with State Senator Hansen Clark and State Representative Paul Condino to announce the introduction of legislation which will strengthen Michigan’s anti-bias crimes laws. Also in the coalition were members of law enforcement and prosecutors.
“The city of Lansing and the Lansing Police Department believe that our state laws must recognize the seriousness of crimes that are motivated by bias and hate,” said Mark Alley, chief of police for the city of Lansing. “We need to send a strong message that violence against another person because of the color of their skin, their gender or their sexual orientation is unacceptable and will be met with severe consequences through our judicial system.”
Speaking about the current Ethnic Intimidation Act, Wastenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie said the changes were long overdue. Mackie was the first prosecutor to use the law in a case involving the arson of a home in his county because the couple who lived there were African-American.
“It didn’t cover everyone in the state,” the 15-year veteran prosecutor said. “Now it will cover 10 million people.”
“We stand with the premise that a hate crime against an individual is a crime against all of us,” said Condino, who is chair of the State House Judiciary committee. “I promise we will move this through the judiciary committee…and the House of Representatives.”
According to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights the bills will not only enhance the current “hate crimes law,” but it will improve the ability of law enforcement and prosecutors to enforce it. Under the bill, the current act will be renamed “Bias Motived Crime.” In addition, the law would make it easier for law enforcement to investigate bias crimes and for prosecutors to get more serious criminal prosecutions and convictions in cases involving bias motivation. The bill would also extend the Ethnic Intimidation Act’s protection to include race, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability or religion. The bill would also allow victims of bias motivated crimes to sue the alleged perpetrator in civil court and receive damages, including emotional damages, and other appropriate relief. Under the provision in the law, the victim of bias crimes can collect $2,000 or total of actual damages which ever is greater.
“Victims of bias violence suffer the trauma of the crime itself, as well as feelings of humiliation for being targeted for who they are or appear to be,” said Melissa Pope, Director of Victim Services at Triangle Foundation. “This often causes these vulnerable victims to retreat into an isolated silence. The Bias Motivated Crime Bill empowers victims to speak out against prejudice and provides avenues to seek true justice.”
“While civil rights organizations like Michigan Equality and Triangle have worked hard to provide assistance to victims of bias violence, the reality is the system is fundamentally outdated,” said Derek Smeirtka, Executive Director of Michigan Equality. “This legislation simply expands existing laws, and provides additional punishments for crimes to address the trauma of victims targeted by bias violence.”
“(Bias crime) effects everyone in Michigan,” said Linda Parker, director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. “Michigan is the most segregated state in the country according to information from the U.S. Census Bureau. The FBI reports Michigan ranks as the third highest number of bias incidents. Difference are not accepted in Michigan, one would assume from that information. But that is not true.”
“This will send a message to all citizens that ‘yes, we do tolerate everyone. We are open for business,'” Sen. Hansen Clark said. “We will be joining 31 other states when we pass this.”
The legislation received letters of endorsement from The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Michigan Universal Health Care Access Network (MichUHCAN), Acorn, the Michigan State Conference of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (A.C.C.E.S.S.), Triangle Foundation and Michigan Equality.