Source: Ohio Department of Public Safety, Office of Criminal Justice Services
Sunday’s massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando has focused attention on whether Ohio law adequately protects possible victims of hate crime violence.
Omar Mateen’s targeting of people in the Pulse nightclub may have been partially motivated by a hatred of others’ sexual orientation. But Ohio’s ethnic intimidation law, while enhancing penalties for crimes motivated by intolerance of another’s gender, race and religion, does not include sexual orientation or gender identity.
Montgomery County Prosecutor Mathias H. Heck Jr., whose office has sought charges under the Ohio law five times since 2012, said the mix of terrorism and hate in the Orlando shooting blends elements that even taken alone are hard to criminally parse.
“These extraordinary type crimes are going to necessitate extraordinary measures to ensure that we get in front of these and are proactive,” Heck said.
“Do hate crime laws do any good? It’s certainly one tool we have in order to fight any type of bias-motivated crime, hate crime or ethnic intimidation,” Heck said.” It’s one tool that we have to address this type of conduct.”
Nationwide 5,479 reported hate crime incidents involved 6,418 offenses during 2014. Single-bias cases, accounting for 47 percent of incidents, involved racial bias; sexual orientation and religious bias cases followed with 18.6 percent each; and ethnicity cases comprised 11.9 percent.
The remaining categories of hate crime statistics kept by the Federal Bureau of Investigation include gender identity (1.8 percent), disability (1.5 percent), and gender (0.6 percent). A majority, 43 percent, of the crimes reported against persons involved intimidation.
The Ohio hate crime rate of 4.1 incidents per 100,000 populations is significantly higher than the national average of 1.8 incidents per 100,000 populations, according to the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services. Reporting hate crimes, however, has proved to be an inexact science.
An Associated Press investigation published earlier this month showed more than 2,700 city police and county sheriff’s departments, or about 17 percent nationally, have not filed a single hate crime report with the FBI during the past six years. Other agencies file them only sporadically.
Ohio’s numbers align with national statistics. In Ohio, 136 of the state’s 843 local law enforcement agencies haven’t filed a hate crime report.
Ohio State Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, said the only way a crime against someone in Ohio for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender can be investigated and prosecuted as a hate crime is under federal statutes that only affect interstate commerce.
Antonio has sponsored a bill for the second time that would institute enhanced penalties for those convicted of a criminal act directed at someone’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability — another class not mentioned in the current hate crimes law. The proposed bill, House Bill 569, also seeks a shift in language from “ethnic intimidation” to “bias-motivated crime.”
A number of U.S. mass shootings have been investigated as potential hate crimes by the U.S. Department of Justice, including an August 2012 killing at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and last year’s massacre of a Bible study group at a Charleston, S.C., church.
Mateen, who reportedly couldn’t stomach two gays kissing, claimed allegiance to the Islamic State during the killing of 49 people early Sunday at the nightclub. It’s unclear how Florida’s hate crime law or federal statutes will factor into the FBI- led investigation. A former co-worker called Mateen “racist” and he was twice interviewed by the feds after making “inflammatory” comments to co-workers about Islamic propaganda.
President Barack Obama called the shooting that also left 53 wounded an “act of terror,” and an “act of hate.”
Americans should stand with both the LGBT and Muslim communities and not let some use the Orlando tragedy to drive a wedge between citizens, said Lisa Wurm, an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) policy manager. Wurm, who focuses on LGBT issues, said enacting non-discrimination laws and education will do more to halt hate crimes than yet one more tough-on-crime law.
“Hate crime laws even as they stand now have not prevented racism or stopped racially-related crimes or misogyny, so enacted specific extra penalties is not going to solve the problems in society and our state,” she said. “Embracing people as fully equal in our society is something that I think our legislators have an opportunity to do specifically in Ohio we haven’t done yet.”
Wurm said hate crimes legislation is an issue the ACLU wrestles with because the enhanced penalties and discretionary sentencing by judges translate into little crime deterrence.
“This is a difficult issue because people want something to lean on. They want an action,” she said. “The solution is to make sure everybody in our state and in our country are treated and seen as equal.”