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Civil Law Class Explores Hate Crimes

Todd Kelley
Copy Editor

   Local law enforcement and government personnel gathered April 5, in the Memorial Classroom Building auditorium for an “Intro to Civil Law” class.

   Tim Griffon and Michael Johnson of the U.S. Attorney’s Office invited law enforcement and government officials for a class in hate crimes. The class began by asking “What is a hate crime?”

   “A hate crime does not take something noncriminal and make it criminal,” Johnson said. “A hate crime is an already existing criminal act; it is the motive that we are concerned with.”

   Johnson said by establishing hate crime motive harsher penalties can be enacted. The class focused mainly on what constitutes a reason for the federal government to intervene. The statutes, known as “pegs” allow federal government to step in.

   Mark Gober, Drew County Sheriff, said all of his experience with the federal law enforcement has been positive.

   “This class helps us define what we are seeing,” Gober said. “We can help identify a hate crime for local prosecutors. Also, knowing the ‘pegs’ makes it easier to get federal enforcement which allows for stiffer penalties.”

   But, Johnson said, the federal government has limitations and local law enforcement must know the “pegs” that allow them to investigate.

   “Sometimes you can tell a hate crime was committed,” Johnson said. “A cross burning in the front yard is obvious, but sometimes you have to pick it apart.”

   The “pegs” are important because the Arkansas hate crime legislation failed to pass in 1993, and a national legislation failed in 1997. The six laws, known as the “Civil Rights” statutes, discussed in the class were:

   18 U.S.C. 241 makes it illegal for two or more persons to agree to injure, threaten, or intimidate a person in any state, territory or district in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him/her by the U.S. constitution.

   18 U.S.C. 242 makes it illegal for any person under color of law to willfully deprive a person of a right or privilege protected by the constitution or laws of the U.S. This statute refers specifically to police officers, prison guards, public healthcare providers, judges and others acting as public officials.

   18 U.S.C. 245 makes it unlawful to willingly injure, intimidate or interfere with any person; or attempt to do so, by force or threat of force, because of that other person’s race, color, religion or national origin.

   18 U.S.C. 247 prohibits anyone from intentionally defacing, damaging or destroying religious real property because of the religious nature of the property, so long as the crime is committed in or affects interstate commerce. The statute also prohibits anyone from intentionally obstructing or attempting to obstruct, by force or threat of force, a person in the enjoyment of that person’s religious belief, where the crime is committed in or affects interstate commerce.

   Section 3631 of Title 42 makes it unlawful for an individual to us force, attempt to use force or threaten with force to injure, intimidate, or interfere with any person’s housing rights; this based on race, color religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin.

   18 U.S.C. Sec. 844 (e) using mail, telephone, telegraph or other instrument of interstate and foreign commerce to willfully make threats, or maliciously convey false information; (h) the use of fire or explosives to commit a felony and ( i) sets punishments of 5 to 40 years plus fines for anyone using fire or an explosive to destroy buildings, vehicles or other real or personal property used in interstate or foreign commerce.

   Johnson’s experience with hate crimes spans 30 years. In that time he said he learned hate crimes are more difficult for the victim. Historically, hate crimes are more violent and persistent because offenders believe they have justifiable reasons.

   “Victims of hate crimes are not like any other,” Johnson said. “They are chosen for an unalterable reason and that adds more psychological strain.”

   Robert Rosegrant, Chief of the Monticello Police, said he enjoyed the class but hoped it would get deeper into the Fair Housing Act.

   “As a municipality we would probably use that ‘peg’ the most,” Rosengrant said.

   Campus police chief, John Kidwell, said in his six years on campus there has never been a reported hate crime. Still, he said he agrees with Rosengrant’s and Gober’s positive reactions to the class. Kidwell said the foundation for a similar class, geared toward students, has been laid.

   “We would love to have them on campus again.” Kidwell said.

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ŠThe Voice 2007
01/13/2008 03:22:31 PM — http://www.uamont.edu/Organizations/TheVoice/4_22/police.htm