Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson and Sen. Steven Bieda (D-Warren) renew calls for hate crime protections in Michigan. Photo courtesy of David Olds

Sen. Bieda, Prosecutor Renew Calls for Hate Crime Protections

BY BTL STAFF

LANSING, Mich. - Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren) and Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson have renewed calls for legislative action on Senate Bill 121, which would add gender identification and sexual orientation to the list of protections under the Ethnic Intimidation Act.

Currently, the Ethnic Intimidation Act says that a person is guilty of ethnic intimidation and subject to two years in prison if they maliciously - and with specific intent to intimidate or harass another person based on their race, color, religion, gender or national origin - commit, or threaten to commit, physical harm or property damage.

However, the law does not include sexual orientation and gender identity protections.

"Lawmakers have had this particular piece of legislation on their plate for two decades," Sen. Bieda said. "How many more assaults will it take for them to realize that the current laws have done nothing to reduce hate crimes, and allow perpetrators to escape the fullest extent of the law?"

A recent case in Muskegon Heights - where a 17-year-old victim was lured, physically assaulted and stripped of his clothing by an attacker who recorded the assault and posted it on Facebook - spotlights the need for gender identification and sexual orientation protections. During an investigation, Muskegon Heights police officers used a recording to determine the attack was racially motivated, and that the attacker selected the victim because he was gay.

The Muskegon County Prosecutor's Office, led by Prosecutor D.J. Hilson, sought felony hate crime charges against the attacker, but were unable to do so because sexual orientation is not covered under the current federal hate crime statute.

"I just get to enforce the laws that are made, and not make them," D.J Hilson, Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan president-elect, said. "We're hoping that Sen. Bieda's Senate Bill 121 will highlight the need to make a change in this particular law."

For more than a decade, Sen. Bieda has introduced similar legislation to give law enforcement and prosecutor's offices the tools they need to uphold the rule of law and seek justice for victims of hate crimes, but none has been passed by the Republican-controlled legislature.

In 1998, following the brutal murder of Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard, the Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill to add sexual orientation to the Ethnic Intimidation Act, but the bill then died in the Senate.

SB 121, his current bill, was referred to the Senate Government Operations Committee on Feb. 8 where it still awaits a hearing. Members of the community are encouraged to contact Sen. Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) to apply pressure to move SB 121 out of committee to get passed so hate crimes can be prosecuted as hate crimes in the state of Michigan. Meekhof's office can be reached at 517-373-6920 or via email at SenAMeekhof@senate.michigan.gov.


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