N.C. hate-crime laws exclude sexual orientation

October 9, 2009
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It has been three weeks since the bias incident that occurred in Bryan Hall was reported to Campus Life and to the Greensboro Police Dept. (GPD), but the perpetrators remain unknown.To check on the progress of the case, The Guilfordian contacted Sgt. J. W. Moore of the special victims unit of the criminal investigations division of the GPD.

Moore stated that the case had been filed, but was currently inactive, meaning an officer is assigned to the case but there is no active investigation taking place.

“The GPD will not be doing anything further in this investigation,” said Moore.

According to Moore, Guilford reported the incident for record- keeping purposes, but intended to pursue the investigation internally.

“It’s not uncommon for people to report for record-keeping purposes and request that there be no follow-up,” said Moore.

Moore said that based on the information he had, this is what Guilford requested when reporting the case.

“I’m not aware of anyone making any such statement to GPD,” said Director of Public Safety Ron Stowe. “When I spoke with the officer and filed the original report, I did tell her that we would also be conducting an internal investigation, but did not ask them to not investigate.”

Stowe said that if Guilford had intended to handle the case alone, there would have been no point in reporting it to GPD in the first place.

“We can’t tell GPD what to do. We just report the case,” said Dean of Students Aaron Fetrow. “If the investigators don’t think a reported case is a crime, they will keep it on record and say that Guilford is handling it internally. That’s my understanding of their protocol.”

N.C. legislation sheds light on how such a case is perceived by authorities.

In the United States, only 45 states have hate-crime statutes. From these, a mere 32 states include sexual orientation as a motivating factor in what constitutes a hate crime. North Carolina is one of the remaining 18 that does not.

Under North Carolina legislation, a crime is recognized as a hate crime (or bias-motivated crime) if the assault of a person, defacement or damage of property, or threats received occur because of one’s race, religion, nationality or country of origin.

“As it specifically relates to the recent incident in Bryan, it seems clear that that event was not a ‘hate crime’ under this statute and North Carolina law,” said Director of Public Safety Ron Stowe. “All indications are that the act was based on sexual orientation, and not race, religion, nationality, or country of origin.”

Furthermore, Stowe said that since there was no indication of physical assault or property damage, the bias incident does not fit the N.C. hate-crime statute.

“Knowing that we are not protected under North Carolina hate-crime law is extremely disheartening,” said Vice President of Pride Je’Lissa Fowler, junior. “Not having equal protection fuels the notion that acts, such as the one here on campus, are perfectly acceptable.”

House Bill 207, also known as the Safer Communities Act, which was introduced on the N.C. Senate floor in February, advocates “increasing the criminal penalties for committing an act of ethnic intimidation” as well as expanding the language of the hate crime statue to include “gender, age, disability and sexual orientation”.

Representative Pricey Harrison is one of the four primary sponsors of House Bill 207.

Harrison is a current Democratic member of the North Carolina House of Representatives who presides over the 57th district, Guilford county.

A former guest speaker at Guilford, Representative Harrison remains a forerunner in North Carolina in the tuning of hate-crime legislation.

“If we are going to have a hate crimes statute and one-fifth of hate crimes in North Carolina are motivated by sexual orientation, then it should be included in the legislation,” said Harrison in a phone interview.

Harrison said that opponents of the bill view the inclusion of sexual orientation as an unnecessary allowance of special protection.

However, Pride president Brian Daniel, a junior, said that in existing hate-crime legislation special groups are already protected, while the LGBTQA community is excluded.

“While we may have had the number of votes from constituents to get the bill passed, the problem was that some N.C. legislators didn’t want the bill to be heard,” said Harrison.

The Guilfordian contacted Republican representatives Phil Berger and John Blust for comment but they have not yet responded.

“It is frustrating to push for this bill when there are hardcore civil libertarians who believe that we don’t even need hate-crime legislation,” said Harrison.

Fetrow said that the bias incident that occurred is undoubtedly considered abuse and harassment on campus, “but will local authorities determine that something like that is a hate crime? I don’t think so.”

Fetrow also said that not only is this not considered to be a hate crime by GPD, but it also might not be considered a crime at all.

“It all lies in the interpretation,” said Fetrow.

In this case, GPD would have to interpret the language of the notes in classifying the case.

“‘You don’t deserve life like the rest of the world.’ Is that a threat? Or is that stating an opinion?” said Fetrow, highlighting the potential problems in interpreting the notes.

“Undoubtedly, this was a disgusting act,” said Fetrow. “I think that it should be considered a crime and I could be wrong, but emotionally I don’t feel like I am.”

Assistant Professor of Justice and Policy Studies Will Pizio was a state trooper in New York for six years.

“As a former police officer, I can only go by observable facts,” said Pizio. “What I can see, taste, hear. There has to be evidence to support the assertion. You have to have the facts.”

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