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2024 Eastern Washington Legislative Conference

NAACP, city leaders discuss hate crime laws

NAACP led a workshop, had a display and helped in planning. Back row, Amy McColm, Pat Cantlon, Front, Fay Baptiste, ...... and Elliot Fabric

At the Jan. 27 Eastern Washington Legislative Conference, NAACP Spokane President Lisa Gardner, who is director of communications and community engagement for the Spokane City Council, teamed up with Zack Zappone, Spokane City Council member for District Three, to discuss hate crimes and legislation to address them.

Zack reviewed legal requirements for a hate crime.

A perpetrator must maliciously and intentionally commit acts because of their perception that the victim belongs to a protected class based on race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, or mental, physical, or sensory disability.

The perpetrator must assault the victim or another person, cause physical damage or destroy the victim's property, or threaten a person or group and place people in reasonable fear of harm.

"Words alone do not constitute a hate crime if the person lacks the ability to carry out the threat," Zack said, adding that state law does not allow prosecution of a hate crime as a felony when done to public property. Senate bill 5917 addresses this gap.

Two other bills are before the 2024 legislature. Senate Bill 5427, co-sponsored by Senator Andy Billig from Spokane, addresses the state's lack of data on hate crimes. It calls on the attorney general to set up a bias incidents hotline to receive reports. It would help the state develop a knowledge base on the frequency and nature of hate crimes.

The hotline would help track and prosecute hate crimes more effectively. Opponents argue it may be abused by people unable to distinguish between freedom of speech and a hate crime.

Lisa said the bill came to the legislature in 2023 but died in committee, because it provided compensation for victims.

"Currently the NAACP shoulders much of what the hotline could track," she said.

They were called when a racial slur was painted on a school bus driven by a biracial driver. They were called to remove racial slurs spray-painted at Mission Park.

The second bill, Senate Bill 5914 and House Bill 1911, deals with activities of the Office of Public Defense (OPD), which addresses some hate crimes.

By statute the OPD cannot represent clients. It can only contract with attorneys, local governments and law firms to represent indigent clients and initial consultations for youth stopped or arrested by police.

It would allow the OPD to do more direct activities, manage OPD attorneys to provide limited coverage for initial telephone or video consultations when contracted counsel is unavailable.

It may coordinate with law schools to facilitate placement of clerks, externs and interns with OPD contracted counsel. Its employees may also provide some pro bono legal services.

For information, visit Spokane NAACP branch website.

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, March 2024