Bills aim to protect more groups under Mississippi’s hate crime laws

Published 8:17 am Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Advocates want Mississippi to expand its hate crimes law to allow stiffer penalties for crimes targeting people because of sexual orientation, gender identity or disability under the law.

Two bills have been filed with bipartisan support. House Bill 1494 and Senate Bill 2163 are facing a Tuesday deadline for consideration in House and Senate committees.

Mississippi’s current hate crimes law allows prosecutors to seek stronger penalties against a person charged with committing a crime against someone because of the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, national origin or gender.

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“No Mississippian or any American should be targeted for who they are. This should be something that everyone can agree on,” said advocate Rob Hill at the state Capitol on Monday.

Hill, the Mississippi director of LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, said the bills would make Mississippi’s hate crimes law match the federal law and would give state prosecutors more options to pursue cases.

House Judiciary B Committee Chairwoman Angela Cockerham, a Democrat from Magnolia, declined to comment Monday about the bill that is in her committee.

Senate Judiciary A Committee Chairman Briggs Hopson, a Republican from Vicksburg, said he supports the Senate bill and intends to bring it to a vote in his committee. If it passes there, it would go to the Senate Corrections Committee for more work.

Federal statistics show more than 7,000 hate crimes were reported in the U.S. in 2017, and about 60 percent of those were crimes motivated by a victim’s race or ethnicity, 22 percent were prompted by religious bias and about 16 percent were because of bias about a person’s sexual orientation.

The federal numbers show 1.6 percent of reported hate crimes in 2017 were because of a victim’s disability.

“There’s ample reason to believe that the rate is vastly underreported,” said Scott Crawford, a board member for Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities.

Crawford said people with intellectual, developmental or mental health disabilities may be unable to report a crime or may fear that people will not believe them.