Are all crimes “hate crimes?”

This morning, Virginia’s Senate Committee on Courts of Justice defeated two bills that would have extended “hate crime” protections to people with disabilities.

Virginia’s “hate crime” statute establishes higher mandatory minimum penalties for a crime where the victim is selected based on certain characteristics.  The law affords an elevated punishment level to a crime that is committed with special animus towards someone based on their religion, race or ethnicity (one section of Virginia’s law also adds “color” as a protected trait).  This morning’s proposal would have added that elevated punishment level if the animus was directed towards a person’s disability.  With the increase in bullying and violence that we are seeing towards children and adults who are different in any way, the disAbility Law Center of Virginia supported this extension of existing law.

But the bill was defeated.  The final vote broke down along party lines, with Republican senators expressing opposition to something that might offer protections to people who are nearsighted or who have a learning disability.

Opponents to a second, similar bill this morning declared that “all crimes are hate crimes,” so that that no one class of victim is deserving of special protections.  One  opponent said that the legislation amounted to “thought punishment,” even after a senator reminded him that it is an actual criminal act that is being punished.

More and more people with disabilities are moving towards full integration in society, even in slow-to-change Virginia.   We would hope that our constituents will not need the added protections of hate crime penalties, but only time will tell us whether our hope is justified.

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