Alaska Hate Crimes Act: My letter in support of SB11

Hate Crimes: They Can Happen Anytime, Anywhere.

Today the Alaska Senate Judiciary Committee is hearing testimony on Senate Bill 11, the the Alaska Hate Crimes Act, “An Act relating to the commission of a crime when the defendant directed the conduct constituting the crime at the victim based on the victim’s race, sex, color, creed, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, ancestry, or national origin” [click for full text].

Jim Minnery of Alaska Family Council at a public hearing on the Anchorage equal rights ordinance AO-64, 7 July 2009

Jim Minnery of Alaska Family Council at a public hearing on the Anchorage equal rights ordinance AO-64, 7 July 2009

In spite of the fact that the bill addresses hate crimes based on a number of personal characteristics, the factually incorrect “action alert” sent by Jim Minnery of Alaska Family Council to his supporters yesterday focused exclusively on sexual orientation and gender identity.  As John Aronno of the Alaska Commons noted this morning in his debunking of Minnery’s alert, “nothing seems to get [Minnery's] soul patch flaring like ‘the gay.’”  (John’s piece has also been crossposted it at Bent Alaska.)  Indeed, the only opposition I’ve heard about regarding this bill is based on antigay/antitrans sentiments.

But the Alaska Hate Crimes Act isn’t only about LGBT Alaskans.  It’s about all Alaskans.  So while my letter in support of SB11 brought up a bunch of stats about the violence  lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transfolk have experience just for being who we are, let’s not forget the paintball attacks on Alaska Natives in Anchorage just a few short years ago, or the two Anchorage youth who thought it was cool  to post on YouTube their assault on an Alaska Native man in summer 2009 — a “summer of hate” not only because of the hate directed at LGBT folks in Anchorage during the public hearings on AO-64.  Let’s not forget the other ways in which violent crime is directed at some people based simply on the color of their skin, what religion they practice, their sex, their national origin, their physical or mental disabilities.  Hate: just for being who you are.

Given the inaccuracies being propounded by Minnery and his followers & allies, I thought I’d present some of the facts about what the bill actually says and what it will actually do if passed, before presenting the email I sent today in support of the bill.

What the Act says:

SENATE BILL NO. 11
“An Act relating to the commission of a crime when the defendant directed the conduct constituting the crime at the victim based on the victim’s race, sex, color, creed, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, ancestry, or national origin.”

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF ALASKA:

* Section 1. AS 11.76 is amended by adding a new section to read:
Sec. 11.76.150. Motivation by prejudice, bias, or hatred. (a) A person commits the crime of motivation by prejudice, bias, or hatred if the person commits a crime in this title and the person knowingly directed the conduct constituting the crime at the victim of the crime because of the victim’s race, sex, color, creed, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, ancestry, or national origin.(b) In this section, “gender identity” means actual or perceived gender-related
characteristics.
(c) Motivation by prejudice, bias, or hatred is a
(1) class A misdemeanor if the crime committed is a class B misdemeanor;
(2) class C felony if the crime committed is a class A misdemeanor;
(3) class B felony if the crime committed is a class C felony;
(4) class A felony if the crime committed is a class B felony;
(5) unclassified felony and the defendant shall be sentenced to a definite term of imprisonment of at least five years but not more than 99 years if the crime committed is a class A felony.

* Sec. 2. AS 12.55.155(c)(22) is amended to read:
(22) the defendant knowingly directed the conduct constituting the offense at a victim because of that person’s race, sex, color, creed, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, ancestry, or national origin; in this paragraph, “gender identity” means actual or perceived gender-related characteristics;

What the Act will do

From the sponsor statement of Senator Bettye Davis (the bill’s co-sponsors are Senators Hollis French and Johnny Ellis):

This bill increases the sentencing for crimes motivated prejudice, bias, or hatred based on the victim’s race, sex, color, creed, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, ancestry, or national origin. This new crime can only be committed when a person commits some underlying crime and the person directed the conduct constituting the crime at the victim due to one of the listed characteristics of the victim. The new crime increases the classification of the underlying crime one level.

Without creating a new list of “hate crimes” under AS 11.76, new Sec. 11.76.150 simply reclassifies the level of any crime up one notch if motivated by prejudice, bias, or hatred based on the victim’s race, sex, color, creed, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, ancestry, or national origin. For example, a class B misdemeanor becomes a class A misdemeanor; a class A misdemeanor becomes a C felony; a class C felony becomes a B felony, etc. Such reclassification, of course, increases the penalties appropriate to the classification in sentencing under AS 12.55. The bill also amends AS 55.155(c)(22), an aggravating factor as sentencing for felonies, by adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the list of protected characteristics.

The need for this bill is demonstrated by increasing reports of violence against homeless persons, minorities, religious groups, and others motivated by prejudice, bias, and hatred in Alaska and across the country in our highly diverse and multicultural society. When crimes are committed because of people’s differences, the effects reverberate beyond a single victim or group into an entire community, city, state, and society as a whole. While this bill alone cannot eliminate prejudice, bias, or hatred, it will send a message that Alaskans will not tolerate hate crimes in any form, and sentencing for them will be substantially increased.

From the sectional summary by Legislative Counsel Gerald P. Luckhaupt, Division of Legal and Research Services, Alaska Legislative Affairs Agency:

Section 1. This new crime can only be committed when a person commits some underlying crime and the person directed the conduct constituting the crime at the victim due to one of the listed characteristics of the victim. The new crime increases the classification of the underlying crime one level.

Section 2. Amends AS 55.155(c)(22), an aggravating factor at sentencing for felonies, by adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the list of protected characteristics.

My letter today to the Alaska Senate Judiciary Committee

Senator Hollis French
Senator Bill Wielechowski
Senator Joe Paskvan
Senator Lesil McGuire
Senator John Coghill
Alaska Senate Judiciary Committee

Dear Senators:

I’m writing in support of Senate Bill 11, “An Act relating to the commission of a crime when the defendant directed the conduct constituting the crime at the victim based on the victim’s race, sex, color, creed, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, ancestry, or national origin.”

In the 1980s, I was part of two major research efforts conducted by Identity, Inc. to document sexual orientation bias in Alaska. One in 10: A Profile of Alaska’s Lesbian & Gay Community, published in 1986, reported on the results of a statewide survey of 734 lesbian, gay, and bisexual Alaskans on a wide range of issues, including experience of discrimination, harassment, and violence. Identity Reports: Sexual Orientation Bias in Alaska, published in 1989, comprised three papers including “Prima Facie,” which documented 84 actual cases (from personal interviews and documentary evidence) of violence, harassment, and discrimination due to sexual orientation bias. (Copies of both reports are available on the Internet at http://www.henkimaa.com/identity/.)

Of the 734 respondents to One in 10, 61% reported being victimized by violence and harassment while in Alaska because of their sexual orientation. This ranged from verbal abuse/harassment, reported by 58%, to physical violence, 11%, and sexual assault, 5%. In the “Prima Facie” component of Identity Reports, we documented 25 cases of verbal abuse, harassment, or threats; 10 cases involving actual physical violence (including 4 assaults, 3 murders, 2 sexual assaults involving multiple assailants, and one attempted sexual assault); 3 cases involving property damage; one smoke-bombing; and one tear-gassing.

We are working now to update the research of One in Ten and Identity Reports through the Anchorage LGBT Discrimination Survey, currently in progress, and a projected statewide Alaska LGBT Statewide Community Survey, which will cover a wide range of questions beside those on discrimination/bias. Unlike the studies in the 1980s, the current research includes gender identity as well as sexual orientation — an important distinction, as transgender persons are arguably victimized by violent crime at even higher rates than lesbians, gays, and bisexuals. For example, 7 percent of the 6,436 respondents to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (which included Alaskans) reported being physically assaulted at work because of being transgender or gender non-conforming, 6 percent reported being sexually assaulted at work for that reason. In schools, 31 percent were harassed and bullied, 5 percent were physically assaulted, and 3 percent were sexually assaulted by teachers and staff because of their gender identity or presentation.

For these reasons, I’m pleased that the bill’s language includes both sexual orientation and gender identity. But I’m also in support of the bill for its inclusion of race, sex, color, creed, physical or mental disability, ancestry, and national origin. Along with other Alaskans, I was appalled and upset by the paintball attacks on Alaska Natives that took place in Anchorage a few years ago, or the more recent You-Tubed bias-motivated attack on an Alaska Native man in Anchorage in summer 2009. I’ve also read minutes of the Senate Judiciary’s February 16 meeting, and especially remember the testimony of Kate Burkhart, Executive Director of the Alaska Mental Health Board, that the Department of Justice has found people with a disability to 2 to 3 times more likely to be victimized by violent crime than other people.

Virtually all the opposition I’ve heard to this bill so far has come from those who opposition rests solely on its inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity. Yesterday, Jim Minnery of the Alaska Family Council sent out an action alert that claimed, among other things, that “A person who assaults a homosexual will be given a harsher penalty than if that same assault was perpetrated on, for example, an elderly person.” I considered whether Mr. Minnery would claim to his members that, “A person who assaults a mentally disabled person will be given a harsher penalty than if that same assault was perpetrated on, for example, an elderly person” — or substitute any other word that covers people whose personal characteristics would be covered by this act: Christian, Muslim, Alaska Native, Caucasian. Mr. Minnery also falsely claimed that passage of this bill would result in antigay speech itself being treated as a hate crime (in notable contrast to SB11 supporter Jeffrey Mittman of the Alaska ACLU’s efforts to ensure that the bill’s language steer clear of language that might subject it to constitutional “free speech” challenges). Other logical inconsistencies of Mr. Minnery’s action alert were persuasively debunked by John Aronno on the blog the Alaska Commons last night.

I hope that testimony and emails from Mr. Minnery’s supporters based on poor and even dishonest reasoning will not dissuade members of the Senate Judiciary Committee from acting positively on this important legislation.

Thank you for your consideration.
Melissa S. Green
Anchorage, Alaska

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4 Responses to Alaska Hate Crimes Act: My letter in support of SB11

  1. Pingback: Alaska Hate Crimes Act: My letter in support of SB11 | Bent Alaska

  2. Bent Alaska says:

    It’s been reported that Senate Judiciary passed SB11 on to Senate Finance on a vote of 3-1. Don’t yet know who voted “no” or who was absent.

  3. Bent Alaska says:

    A Bent Alaska friend reports SEN JUD votes on SB 11 were as follows: French, Wielechowski, Paskvan YES; Coghill NO; McGuire ABSENT. SB11 will next be taken up by the Alaska Senate Finance committee. Date is not yet knowns, but here’s the committee members to write to: http://bit.ly/AKSENFIN.

  4. Meredith says:

    I am glad to see these added. I know that man is not good and there will be a need to add many more – there is always someone that is a victim of another’s hatred.

    A crime committed should be brought to justice, whatever the intent that drove them to that criminal act. Hate crime? any crime against another is a “hate” crime in my opinion. Otherwise the crime would not have been committed against a person. Isn’t the real issue our justice system, not giving justice equally? Should someone get more protection than any other that is accosted?

    If we are going to complicate the laws by trying to moralize when a hatred is okay and when a hatred is not, then expect even more confusion and injustice.

    We need to demand fair judgements and stand together with our brothers and sisters. Stand up when you see injustice. Seems everyone wastes time searching for an “enemy” to unite us which only causes more hatred and division – instead of seeking first what can unite us.

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