What is a hate crime? By definition a hate crime is, “A crime motivated by racial, sexual, or other prejudices, typically one involving violence,” In other words, someone commits a violent crime against another simply because they do not like the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, their religion, or their political views. It’s a terrible thing when a hate crime is committed, because how can someone possibly want to harm another just because of the color of their skin or because of their sexual orientation. Unfortunately, these heinous crimes do happen, and they happen more often than we think. So what is done to those who commit a hate crime? This is where the hate crime law takes effect. According to Criminal Justice in Action, by Larry K. Gaines, and Roger Leroy Miller, the hate crime law is, “A statue that provides greater sanctions against those who commit crimes motivated by bias against an individual or a group based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender sexual orientation, disability or age.” Hate crime laws do differ from state to state and unfortunately, in Utah, the hate crime law is practically useless. Several individuals who have committed hate crimes are not charged with hate crimes do to Utahs fruitless law towards these crimes. Several bills have been unsuccessful in changing these laws and some people who have committed such crimes have yet to receive any punishment.
In the criminal justice system, the states find it unnecessary for cases to go to a federal level when the state itself can handle it at a state level. In Utah hate crimes are, like most others, handled at a state level. The Hate Crime Law in Utah only allows those with misdemeanor assaults to be charged with hate crimes. Those who commit a felony assault would, strangely enough, not be charged with a hate crime. For example, someone who chooses to target a home of a gay couple and tag their home in gay slurs could be charged with a hate crime. However, if that same person chose to target that same home and physically attack and injure the same sex couple, purely out of hate for their lifestyle, would not be charged with a hate crime. In a time where hate and intolerance for others seems to be at a high, it is upsetting that Utah has not allowed a bill to pass permitting a change in this law.
In 2014 a gay couple out side of a bar in Salt Lake City, was approached and attacked by two other men who were yelling and calling these men by gay slurs. One man suffered severe head trauma, bruised ribs, neck strain and had several teeth knocked loose. When charges were formally filed, a warrant was put out for their arrest. Shamefully enough, to this day the arrest warrants for these men are outstanding, and they have yet to stand trial for these events. More recently, a story here in Utah has gone viral. On November 27th, 2018, a man by the name of Alan Dale Covington, age 50, entered a family owned tire shop and with a 5-foot metal pole he proceeded to beat 51-year-old Jose Lopez, and his son Luis, age 18.
According to the sister and daughter of the victims who was a witness, says that Covington was shouting racial statements, such as “I hate Mexicans” and “I’m here to kill a Mexican.” Luis was badly hurt, suffering a shattered cheekbone, as well as other facial injuries, requiring a metal plate to be installed. Luis father, Jose, received a deep cut on his arm and bruises on his back because he was shielding his son, who had been knocked to the ground, from the blows.
Covington was charged with 4 counts of aggravated assault, received a 2nd degree felony, and was served with several weapons and drug charges, but will not receive any extended sentencing or be charged with a hate crime. According to several new articles and reports, Covington admitted to police that he believed he was being tracked by the Mexican mafia and was looking to kill a Mexican because they are all connected. In a Deseret news article by Pat Reavy, he shares a comment made by daughter and sister of the victims, Veronica Lopez, “There is no other way to describe it. It was a hate crime.” She says, “I don’t know how much more of a hate crime is has to be.”
Salt Lake County District Attorney, Sim Gill, had a lot to say about the issue. “I don’t have a workable Hate Crimes statute in Utah.” Gill says, “In Utah, we have a façade of saying we have a Hate Crime statue, but its impractical and unusable by prosecutors.” There has not been a successful hate crime charge in Utah in 20 years. This is shocking, upsetting and disappointing. Gill says that this is not a loophole, but rather a void. For 25 years they have been begging for a remedy, but none had been given. Gills states that it is shameful that in 2018 the state has not been able to come up with a statutory remedy. In January of 2018, Sen, Daniel Thatcher of West Valley City, made an attempt to grant tougher punishments for those who target others because of their personal characteristics. Sadly, this last legislative session, the bill did not pass. A similar bill was dismissed in 2017 and another also of a similar nature lost traction in 2016. Not once, not twice, but three times a bill has been shot down for the changing of this law.
Put aside the laws and regulations and think about this on a personal and emotional level. Put yourself in the shoes of those who are being targeted. It seems that many people anymore lack the ability to feel empathy for another. A couple, out for a fun night, was unexpectedly, violently attacked just for being who they are. A family, after Thanksgiving, is working in their family owned tire shop that they have worked hard for, are assaulted and injured because of the color of their skin. A father terrified for his son’s safety, throws himself on top of him and willingly takes the blows so his beloved son does not have to. All while other family members stand by helpless and confused. All of these people targeted are, mothers, fathers, sisters, daughters, brothers, human beings. These people are victims of hate and bigotry because of their skin color, their culture, their religion, their lifestyle, their political views. They did not ask for this, and do not deserve it. When a hate crime is committed it does not just affect the victim, but the race, community or culture that individual belongs too, and the community are affected by this hate.
I believe that hate crimes will not change any time soon unless more attention is brought to the severity of the situation, and I stand is agreeance with George Pyle a publisher of an article by the Salt Lake Tribune, that maybe hate crimes need to be called what they truly are, and that is an act of terrorism.