Commission calls for changes in hate crime law

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission is calling on lawmakers to amend Michigan’s Ethnic Intimidation Act to add gender identification, sexual orientation and disability, and to change the name  to the “Bias Crime Act.”

In 1994, Gov. John Engler charged the commission with forming a Bias Crime Task Force, with representatives from law enforcement, civil and human rights organizations, religious and civic groups. In 1997, the task force issued recommendations:

• Changing the name of the Ethnic Intimidation Act to "Bias Crime Act,” to cover more than jintimidation based on ethnicity.

• Expanding coverage of the Act by adding “age, handicap and sexual orientation.”

• Expanding the Act to include crimes against persons “perceived” to be members of a targeted group, thus avoiding a dismissal where the offender mistakenly assumed that a victim was a member of a protected group.

• Strengthening the penalty provision for violation of the Act.
In 2009, the commission joined the  Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, Michigan State Police, the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan and  several social justice organizations in support of House Bill 4836, which would have addressed the recommended changes. The bill was passed by the House but was not acted on by the Senate.

“These changes to Michigan hate crimes law — changes we have advocated for nearly 20 years — have never been more important than they are today,” said Rasha Demashkieh, commission co-chair, said in the news release.

“We urge the legislature to waste no more time in updating and expanding this law, and saying to the rest of the country that the state of Michigan will not stand by and allow crimes of hate to continue unanswered,” she said.

The commission passed the resolution unanimously at a meeting in late July in Port Huron.