By John A. Tures
Twenty years ago, Georgia passed a hate crimes law, only to see the Georgia Supreme Court strike it down four years later. Ahmaud Arbery’s tragic death while jogging may yet produce a new hate crimes law. All Georgians may benefit, as a result.
Last year, my students and I researched hate crimes laws by state. Only four states lack a hate crimes law. In addition to Georgia, there’s Arkansas, Wyoming (where Matthew Shepard was slain) and South Carolina. Even the massacre at the Charleston church doesn’t seem to have changed things in the Palmetto State.
States haven’t been consistent in reporting hate crimes, so we couldn’t tell whether such laws were curtailing this kind of violence. But we could rely on FBI data in each state from 2014 (the most recent year in the system) to compare crimes in states with hate crimes laws and those without such protections.
The murder rate for states without a hate crime law is 5.1 per 100,000 residents, while it’s only 3.97 for states with a hate crime law, according to our research.
There are also 53 more aggravated assaults per 100,000 residents, on average, in states without a hate crime law. In fact, the violent crime rate is 387.65 per 100,000 residents in states without a hate crime law, and only 343.25 cases per 100,000 residents per year in states with a hate crimes law. While robbery rates are slightly lower in states without a hate crime laws, those states with a hate crime law have overall lower property crime rates.
But if you don’t like data, and prefer cases, I have one for you.
Last week, federal agents arrested a South Carolina man who allegedly used fraud to obtain 90 firearms, 23,000 rounds of ammunition as well as body armor, tactical clothing and bump stocks They discovered he researched the Emanuel A.M.E. Church shooting in Charleston, an ambush of law enforcement officers in Florence, S.C., and a Texas massacre.
Last year, the Georgia state House defied the skeptics, passing what could be one of the strongest hate crimes laws in the country, by a 96-64 margin, showing bipartisan support, with Republican Chuck Efstration, a state representative with prosecutorial experience, serving as the bill’s sponsor.
Legislators with law enforcement backgrounds and those in the judicial world have told me how valuable hate crimes laws are in prosecuting such crimes. Our data shows that they’re right.
Though critics claim it would lead to “thought crimes,” or punishment for opinions, a reading of the bill shows that’s just not so.
The bill, HB426 states that “a person convicted of a crime and proved to have been motivated by bias would face punishment ranging from three months to a year and a find of up to $5,000 for a misdemeanor offense to at least two years in prison for a felony offense,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It’s tacked on to an existing crime.
Now Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “he’s open to legislation that imposes additional penalties on hate crimes,” claiming “conversations about legislation are already underway, and we will work through the process when the General Assembly reconvenes.” If it passes, the violent crime rate in Georgia is likely to fall too.
Years ago, Atlanta adopted the moniker “A City Too Busy To Hate,” enabling it to compete for venues and economic opportunities on a national and international level. If Kemp backs this bill, he may be the governor who can truly declare Georgia to be “A State Too Busy To Hate.”
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. His work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @JohnTures2.