Eight months ago, on a train in Portland, a man started yelling anti-Muslim slurs at two Muslim women. Noticing the women were scared, three other passengers intervened by trying to calm the man down. The man then stabbed two of those passengers to death.That man was Jeremy Joseph Christian, and his victims were Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche and Ricky John Best. Best, a father of four, died on the train.
Law enforcement calls these types of crimes “hate crimes” or “bias-motivated crimes” because the attacker targets their victim based on the victim’s membership in a certain group—because the victim is a member of a certain religion, or race, for example.
Most states have laws to prosecute hate crimes. Unfortunately, Utah’s law is broken and unenforceable. But the need remains. Data from the FBI shows that hate crimes in Utah are on the rise.
What Is Victim Targeting?
People who commit bias-motivated crimes target their victims because of the victim’s:
These crimes may include assault, vandalism, and murder.
What About Utah’s Hate Crimes Law?
Utah ostensibly passed a hate crimes law in 1992. But Utah’s law hasn’t worked well. In fact, it hasn’t worked at all.
Incredibly, our state’s law doesn’t even mention the words “bias” or “prejudice.” It also doesn’t mention “race,” “sexual orientation,” or “gender identity.” Only misdemeanors can be prosecuted as hate crimes.
Even more incredible, no one in Utah has ever been convicted of a hate crime.
Let that sink in.
Advocates note that in order for hate crimes laws to be effective, punishment for people who commit them needs to be stronger than punishment for other crimes. But Utah’s law can’t do that when it doesn’t even admit that hate crimes come from a place of bias towards a particular group.
Utahns have paid the price for this vagueness. During the 20 years since the law passed, Utah law enforcement agencies reported a staggering 1,279 hate crimes.
How Can We Stop Hate Crimes?
Passing tougher victim targeting laws makes all Utahns safer.
If we really want to stop bias-motivated crimes, then we need stronger punishments that discourage assailants from committing these crimes. Stronger punishments make a symbolic statement. They affirm that we as a community won’t tolerate crimes that come from a place of hate. They bring justice to victims of bias.
Momentum is growing. Other cities and counties across Utah have already passed resolutions calling on the legislature to pass comprehensive legislation around this issue, a bill called Victim Targeting Amendments proposed by Senator Daniel Thatcher.
These cities include:
Midvale City Council
Moab City Council
West Jordan City Council
West Valley City Council
Beaver County Council
Salt Lake City Council
Salt Lake County Council
The legal and criminal justice communities support stronger hate crimes enforcement too.
Utah Sheriff’s Association
Statewide Association of Prosecutors
Utah Law Enforcement Legislative Council
All support passing tougher legislation to protect vulnerable Utahns from crime.
This legislative session, the Utah State Legislature has a real opportunity to make our state safer. They can do this by passing Senator Daniel Thatcher’s “Victim Targeting Amendments.”
For the safety of all Utahns, let’s do it.