Push is on to bring hate crime law to Georgia

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The Anti-Defamation League announced a campaign to bring a hate crime law to Georgia, which dumped its law more than a decade ago and has resisted attempts to pass a new one. 

The group, which fights anti-Semitism, made the pledge on Monday in Atlanta with U.S. Rep. John Lewis (photo left), a staunch LGBT ally, as it unveiled 50 States Against Hate. The initiative hopes to pass hate crime measures in the five states without one – Georgia, Arkansas, Indiana, South Carolina and Wyoming – while making existing measures stronger and improving data collection on hate crimes at law enforcement agencies around the country.

“For the memory of the Charleston 9, for the memory of Leo Frank, for the memories of thousands who have lost their lives or have had their lives changed by a hate crime, we must correct this wrong,” ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt (photo right) said. “We must pass a hate crimes law here in Georgia, and we must strengthen the protections in all 50 states.”

Greenblatt announced the new hate crime campaign at an event commemorating the 100th anniversary of the lynching of Leo Frank. A mob dragged the Jewish pencil factory manager from his jail cell in Milledgeville and murdered him in Marietta in 1915 after he was convicted on circumstantial evidence of killing a 13-year-old factory worker. 

Mondays' event was also attended by former Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat who in the past voiced support for a new hate crime law for Georgia, and state Attorney General Sam Olens, who has rallied against gay marriage and defended the state's same-sex marriage ban.

In 2004, the Georgia Supreme Court dumped the state's hate crime law. The measure called for enhanced prison sentences for crimes sparked by “bias or prejudice.” The court tossed out the law, calling it “unconstitutionally vague” because it did not include specific categories, such as sexual orientation. Lawmakers stripped out the categories before passing the measure in 2000.

Passing a new hate crime bill faces a steep legislative hurdle in Georgia. State Sen. Vincent Fort, who sponsored the original legislation, later tried and failed to pass another hate crime measure. State Rep. Keisha Waites, one of three openly gay state lawmakers, proposed a measure with specific protected categories ahead of the 2013 legislative session but the bill went nowhere. LGBT groups have focused instead on fighting off anti-gay “religious freedom” legislation during the last two legislative sessions from state Sen. Josh McKoon.

The ADL didn't detail any legislative plans to pursuing a hate crime law in Georgia. But if the group pushes a bill next session, it will come as lawmakers likely will also consider at least two anti-gay bills, a Pastor Protection Act and a measure providing workplace protections for LGBT state workers. Maybe this new guy can help.

But the ADL did say they've partnered with a host of local groups, including LGBT organizations Georgia Equality and Sojourn, to push for the hate crime law. The ADL also has a history of advocacy of LGBT issues: It has blasted anti-gay attacks in Georgia in the past, fought against the “religious freedom” proposal, worked with Mayor Kasim Reed on anti-bullying initiatives, and was honored for its LGBT advocacy by Georgia Equality.

“The recent hate-based murders in Charleston by a white supremacist is a wake-up call that the time is now to bring strong hate crime laws to all 50 states – including South Carolina and Georgia which lack them entirely,” Greenblatt said.

[photo via | h/t AJC Political Insider]


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