Pass the Hate-Crimes Bill

People matter more than cement. 

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t need to point that out. But the fact is, during the last legislative session, the Senate and the governor failed to enact a bill passed by the House to protect our citizens from hate crimes. 

I know, I know: I’ve heard it already—”Harm is harm, and what’s in a person’s mind shouldn’t matter.” That’s what I heard about hate crimes. Which is to say: people being beaten or having acid thrown in their faces or being dragged behind trucks until dead—that kind of thing. I’m sorry to have to put it so bluntly, but that is the reality of it, isn’t it?

Now, I might have believed that this was a sincere statement of principle. Might have, had it not been for a vote that same session, regarding how people treat bricks and cement. Apparently, crimes against cement do merit additional punishment on the basis of motive, because these same politicians happily enacted a law tripling penalties for defacing monuments over any other type of structure a graffiti artist might choose to tag. I doubt I need to remind anyone which particular monuments were being protested at that time.

All this matters, because hate crime laws began at the federal level, to ensure that justice could be done if states were denying it—which it turned out several of them were. The success of the federal statutes in bringing justice to those denied it at the local level spurred the states to follow suit. Today, Georgia remains one of only four hold-out states to refuse to do anything about local bias where it exists. 

The results can be seen right now in Georgia, where a black man is literally hunted down and shot to death in the streets, and the guys who did it ‘fess right up and say they killed him because he resisted their attempts to take possession of his person, claiming they thought he looked like someone suspected of committing “break-ins,” of which no records could later be found. They seemed to have no fear of being detained for this. And lo and behold, they were not even arrested, until video of the event sparked national outrage two months later.

Now, to anyone raising a finger to make excuses for this man’s confessed killers, hold on. Let’s put ourselves in Ahmaud Arbery’s running shoes for a minute here.

Let’s say it’s you out running. Some men in trucks pull up and get out, they’re carrying long guns and pistols. They try to take you into their control. They’re talking about some things, but what you’re focused on are the guns and the trucks and the men saying you’re coming with them. I don’t believe there’s a single person reading this who, under those circumstances, truly believes it would be a good decision to surrender to whoever the hell these guys happen to be. So, how can we say that these men are allowed to kill Ahmaud Arbery because they became afraid when he resisted their armed assault?

And let’s say it’s not you, but it’s someone you love, gunned down in broad daylight. The perpetrators confess. Oh, and as it happens, one of them used to be an investigator himself, so everybody knows everybody here. Confession in hand, the police let the killers go home to have a beer on the porch. No one is charged, or even arrested. 

The truth is, if anyone in this state can be killed with impunity for resisting armed assault and attempted kidnapping by strangers—regardless of why they claim to be doing it—then what is there to stop the rapist, the mugger, the serial killer? Who among us is not vulnerable, when local authorities can sweep something like this under the rug and the state is held powerless to intervene?

The truth is, if we fail to enact state-level protections for Georgians against hate crimes, we are voting to be OK with what would have happened if that video had not emerged. The House has already demonstrated that we are not OK with that. And the Georgia Association of Police Chiefs has signaled that they are not, either, by endorsing the anti hate crime bill.

I’m calling on the Senate and the governor of Georgia to join the House and the police chiefs of our state, as well as 46 of our other American states, in providing protection for all our citizens against being attacked for who they are, against being denied justice when local authorities turn a blind eye. How can it be a bad thing to at least provide that safety net of protection?

Y’all did it for cement. Are you really going to look the world in the eye and refuse to do it for people?

Spencer Frye (D. Athens) serves in the Georgia General Assembly as the state representative for Georgia House district 118.