OPINION: Hate Crimes Are Still a Problem. Lawmakers Could Help.

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Within the past few weeks, hate crimes have been splashed across cable news and newspaper headlines. Racist, homophobic attackers in Chicago allegedly harassed and violently attacked actor Jussie Smollett, sparking a national conversation about hate violence in the United States. Additionally, a transgender woman named Candice Elease Pinky was shot and killed in Houston allegedly for simply being transgender. Both were targeted for who they are, and they serve as a stark reminder about the danger of discrimination in our country.

As a district attorney, I regularly visit with the victims of serious, violent crimes and have to counsel them through what is often one of the most difficult experiences in their lives. I see the pain in their faces and the wounds to their spirit. And I can only imagine how much more difficult it would be for these victims and their families if the crime was an attack on the person’s freedom to be who they are. In that instance, the law should at least stand with the victims and hold the offender accountable for their hate.

Indeed, this is why in 2009, the U.S. Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act, expanding the 1969 United States federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, general identity and disability. These changes passed with strong bipartisan support. Further, in many states in the South—namely Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas—lawmakers have followed this lead, updating their hate crimes laws to include sexual orientation.

Here in Mississippi, we need to catch up with these states in the South and the rest of the country, and update our hate crime laws to include disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

You may not think this is an issue, but recently, Mississippi

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