The Moab City Council passed a resolution in support of stronger state-level hate crimes legislation on Tuesday, Oct. 10, joining other communities around the state.
“We as a state have hate crime legislation on the books but for years we’ve been hearing that it’s literally unenforceable,” said council member Rani Derasary. “Other communities have been standing up across the state … saying that they would like the state to do more to have legislation that is defensible and among those are the [Utah] Association of Prosecutors, the Utah Chiefs of Police Association and the Utah Sheriff’s Association.”
Moab now joins West Jordan City, South Salt Lake City and Beaver County in passing resolutions in support of stronger hate crimes legislation in Utah, according to Troy Williams, the director of Equality Utah, an LGBT rights group based in Salt Lake City. Williams hopes that the resolutions will make a difference at the state level, he said.
“We’re starting to see these resolutions appear in small towns, rural towns,” Williams said. “These are everyday Utahns collectively raising their voice and taking a stand for inclusion and for love so I think it will have an impact.”
Utah’s current hate crime statute has not been successfully used to prosecute a hate crime in the 20 years that it has been on the books, Williams added.
“The current statute is largely unenforceable and it doesn’t give prosecutors the tools they need to actually bring justice to the victims of hate-fueled violence,” he said.
The current statute, he said, does not enumerate categories — such as race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity — for which perpetrators might target victims. Rather, the statute defines hate crimes as incidences in which the perpetrator is trying to take away a victim’s constitutional rights.
“If a young black girl was going to school and she was targeted for violence while she was going to school, then theoretically that was to stop her from experiencing her constitutional rights,” Williams said. “But if she was leaving school, just going home, and had the same attack, it wouldn’t qualify. It’s just so vague and so weak and so watered down that prosecutors haven’t been able to use it. “
Utah State Sen. Daniel Thatcher, a Republican from West Valley City, introduced a hate crime bill during last year’s legislative session but was unable to get a public hearing. Before that, former Sen. Steve Urquhart, a Republican from St. George, proposed a similar bill in 2016, but the bill failed in the Senate. Urquhart said that he believed opposition from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had killed the bill, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.
“Under current Utah law, a judge may not consider whether a victim was chosen as a matter of convenience, proximity, familiarity, passion, or if they were intentionally targeted as a method of frightening specific communities. Someone in Utah is considered to deserve the same sentence if they spray paint threats on a temple or their girlfriend’s name on an overpass. It’s bad law and needs to change,” Thatcher told The Times-Independent. “Having cities like Moab step up and add their vocal support to the other community, religious, and law enforcement groups in calling for a statewide solution to these crimes sends a strong message to their citizens and to the legislature.”
Utah had 59 bias-related crimes reported to the Bureau of Criminal Identification in 2015, with 33 relating to race, 14 relating to religion and 10 relating to the LGBT community, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. The majority of targets of race-related crimes were white.
“When a criminal deliberately targets a victim because of ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation to deprive them of their unalienable right to life, liberty, property, or to pursue happiness, other members of that community are deeply affected, as is society as a whole,” reads the Moab City Council resolution.
The resolution calls on the Utah State Legislature to act and create stronger tools to address crimes where victims are targeted based on identity. The Moab City Council passed the resolution in a unanimous vote.