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The City Journals

Hate crime law passed; new project allows victims to document experience

May 03, 2019 10:30AM ● By Cami Mondeaux

Panelists Rep. Sandra Hollins (House District 23), Salt Lake County Attorney General Sim Gill and Salt Lake Tribune reporter Paighten Harkins talk with Salt Lake Tribune editor Jennifer Napier-Pearce at the Salt Lake Public Library on March 20. The group discussed SB103, the new hate crime law that will allow enhanced penalties for crimes targeting personal attributes. (Cami Mondeaux/City Journals)

By Cami Mondeaux | [email protected]

The Salt Lake Tribune hosted a panel as part of their #TribTalk to discuss the new hate crime law, SB103, and how it could act as a catalyst to encourage victims to come forward. 

The talk was held March 20 at the Salt Lake Public Library with three panelists: Salt Lake County Attorney General Sim Gill, Rep. Sandra Hollins (House District 23) and Tribune reporter Paighten Harkins. Their discussion was moderated by Tribune editor Jennifer Napier-Pearce and followed by a Q&A session. 

“I’m excited that they have finally passed a law,” said Valerie Burnett, who attended the panel. “I’m learning about how many populations are vulnerable and that concerns me.”

Burnett said she believes this is an important conversation to be having and she learned the ways in which she is privileged and others are not.

“It’s important to me that everybody starts to have more opportunities,” Burnett said. “I want to see people that are vulnerable have more opportunities, to be protected and to feel safe.”

The panelists explored the scope of the hate crime law, known as SB103, and what it would mean for hate crime victims. 

The push against hate crimes

Hollins and Gill, both victims of hate crimes, shared their experiences and why they felt so strongly about the bill being passed. 

Shortly after 9/11, Gill was walking down State Street when a white pickup truck pulled over and its occupants yelled profanities and death threats. 

“You are kind of shocked by that,” Gill said. “Immediately when that happens, you are taken aback.”

These insults were thrown at Gill simply because of his physical appearance as an Indian man, he said. 

“It makes you think,” Gill said. “It made me think about my family. It made me think about the community I belong to.”

Hollins shared her own experience of dealing with hate crimes that occurred shortly after she was elected as House Representative in 2014. 

One night, Hollins and her husband came home and were surprised to see their truck had been set on fire. If they had gotten home later, their house may have been burned down, said Hollins. 

“We definitely recognized what was going on,” said Hollins, who serves as the first African-American woman in the Utah State Legislature. 

Hollins said that these crimes were brushed off as “kids just being kids” but she knew it had something to do with the election. 

“We had lived in our home for over 20 years and we had never had any issues like this until I was in office,” said Hollins. “Hate is a learned behavior.”

SB103

The new hate crime law, SB103, will allow enhanced penalties if it is found the victim was targeted based on personal attributes. 

These attributes include age, ancestry, gender identity, homelessness, etc., according to the Utah State Legislature. 

Under the previous law, only misdemeanor assaults could be tried as hate crimes and the federal government had to be involved to move forward. In addition, evidence had to be presented that proved a constitutional right was violated. 

The bill was signed into law by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on April 2 making it possible to increase penalties for crimes motivated by bias. 

Gill said the law was a “quarter-century” long effort with no successful prosecution for attribution-based hate crimes in Utah for 20 years. 

In recent years, the bill did not receive hearings in 2017 or 2018 after failing in the Senate in 2016, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. 

Advocates like Gill say this is not only a win for victims but also their communities. At the panel held on March 20, Gill said that when these crimes go unpunished it sends a message. 

“You’re sending a message to the [impacted] community,” Gill said. “A message that [says] ‘We do not recognize this terror… and because we’re not going to recognize it… you don’t matter.”

Documenting Hate project

It has been recorded that an estimated 250,000 hates crimes occurred in the U.S. in 2015, with only 6,000 being reported, according to Tribune reporter Paighten Harkins.

Documenting Hate wants to change that.

The Documenting Hate project is a national partnership headed by the Salt Lake Tribune and ProRepublica, an independent, nonprofit news organization, to collect and analyze hate crime data in the U.S., according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

The goal is to get an idea on the scope of hate and bias to see whether the numbers are increasing or decreasing. 

Harkins is part of this national project and shared statistics of hate crimes in the U.S. at the #TribTalk panel. 

“Even on the weak data, hate crimes have gone up,” Harkins said.

Harkins shared that the number of hate crimes and hate groups have increased nationwide in the last five years, even with many incidents going unreported. 

In Utah alone, there was an increase from 784 hate groups in 2014 to 1,020 in 2018. 

The project aims to discover how many crimes are actually occurring by allowing victims to report their experiences directly to the Tribune. It comes partly in response to a mistake in hate crime reporting in 2017, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. 

Harkins said that often these police departments don’t have the training needed to recognize hate crimes when they come across them. 

Hollins went on to say that there are some groups of people who don’t believe hate crimes exist. 

“I think in this day and age… there is a targeted population,” Gill agreed. “Folks, I hate to break it you but there is racism in this country. There is bigotry in this country.” 

The panelists said that there has been some pushback to the bill, arguing that it allows for enhanced rights for some groups of people over others. 

“We intuitively know a hate crime when we witness it,” Gill said. “It’s not about creating special rights — it’s about recognizing the special qualitative nature of that particular crime and giving its appropriate accountability.”