RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Attorney General Mark Herring announced a new package of legislation today to protect racial, ethnic and religious minorities from hate crimes and to expand the definition of the term hate crime.
In coordination with this announcement, Herring also introduced the public to an informational website full of community resources for individuals and groups who may be concerned about hate crimes or be victims of hate crimes themselves. The website is www.NoHateVA.com.
He made the following statement during Friday’s announcement:
“No Virginian should be singled out for abuse, harassment or mistreatment because of who they are, what they look like, how they worship, where they come from or whom they love,” Herring said. “Hate crimes violate the civil liberties of victims and are contrary to the very founding principles of our Commonwealth and our country.”
In 2015, there were 155 hate crimes reported in Virginia, including 71 assaults and 49 acts of vandalism or damage to property. This is a 21 percent increase over 2014. 82 of these were based on race, 23 were based on religion, 22 on sexual orientation, 15 on ethnicity and 13 were based on disability.
The FBI reports a 6 percent increase in hate crimes nationwide. Included within this statistic is a 67 percent increase in crimes against Muslim Americans.
Senator Barbara Favola, Del. Lamont Bagby and Herring are working together to make it easier to prosecute suspects.
“We have been victims and perhaps most Muslims have been targeted by hateful speech,” said Imam Ammar Amonette from the Islamic Center of Virginia.
Amonette was among those in support of the attorney general’s efforts. Recent FBI statistics show a 67% increase in hate crimes against Muslims. That’s the highest number since the after math of the September 11th terrorist attacks.
“We support everyone’s first amendment rights but hate speech, negative political rhetoric directed toward minorities emboldens some individuals and groups to take matters into their own hands,” said Amonette.
“No matter who you are, no matter what you look like, how you pray, you have a place in the commonwealth,” said Herring.