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Democrats Push To Expand North Carolina Hate Crimes Law, But Will It Get A Hearing?

A rally to stop Asian hate was held in Washington, D.C., on March 21, 2021, after the killings of eight people, including six women of Asian descent, on March 16 in the Atlanta area.
Victoria Pickering
A rally to stop Asian hate was held in Washington, D.C., on March 21, 2021, after the killings of eight people, including six women of Asian descent, on March 16 in the Atlanta area.

After the killings of eight people in metro Atlanta a week ago, including six women of Asian descent, calls to expand North Carolina's hate crimes law are increasing. Legislative leaders have not been willing to consider similar proposals in recent years, and it's not clear it will be any different now.

Three Democratic state senators said they'll introduce a bill soon that, for the first time, would require state and local authorities to collect and publish data on hate crimes. That's missing from existing state law, said Chavi Khanna Koneru, executive director of North Carolina Asian Americans Together.

"And that's problematic because it makes it difficult for the police department to kind of define what's a hate crime," Konero said.

State Sen. Jay Chaudhuri
State Sen. Jay Chaudhuri

State Sen. Jay Chaudhuri of Raleigh would be the bill's lead sponsor, along with two Democrats from Mecklenburg County, Mujtaba Mohammed and Natasha Marcus.

"We know since 2016, when President Trump took office, that there's been an increase in hate crimes in general," Chaudhuri said on WFAE's "Charlotte Talks" Thursday. "This is not the first time that I've filed a Hate Crime Prevention Act. In fact, this is the third time that I've filed the Hate Crime Prevention Act. Each time … it's been triggered by some incident that has taken place that's drawing a lot of national attention."

State law already increases penalties for crimes based on race, color, religion or nationality. Chaudhuri said his new bill would add ethnicity, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation. And it would require training on hate crimes for police and prosecutors.

Nationwide, the number of anti-Asian incidents appears to be rising. Areport last week from Stop Asian Pacific Islander Hateat San Francisco State University found nearly 3,800 incidents since March 2020. Of those, 24 incidents were in North Carolina.

But police in many cities, including Charlotte, say they haven't seen any increase in incidents targeting Asians.

State Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed
State Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed

The trio of state senators announced their plans at a press conference last Thursday, at which Mohammed said the bill is needed — especially the data collection requirements.

"Any person can understand that data drives policy and guides problem solving," Mohammed said. "So if we don't report the data, those in power and the public will believe hate crimes are not an issue, and it becomes much more difficult to tackle a very real problem."

But not everyone in the Asian community is behind the idea. Cat Bao Le of Charlotte's SEAC Village also spoke on Charlotte Talks Thursday.

"We are absolutely not in support of any hate crime bill legislation," Le said. "We keep talking about things in terms of not looking at the root causes of violence, and we believe that hate crime legislation does not look at the causes of violence."

"Hate crime legislation actually funnels more money to the police and police are the biggest purveyors of violence," she said.

What's needed is a real movement for change from white people and the dominant culture, Le said.

"What I'm interested in hearing is what the white community in Charlotte is going to do. What are white men going to do? What are men overall going to do? Because we have to really unpack that," she said. "And as uncomfortable as it is, hate crime legislation has not worked in the past."

Chaudhuri introduced similar bills in 2018 and 2019, but neither got a hearing in the Republican-controlled legislature. While he admits nothing has changed since then, he said he thinks increased attention to hate crimes could give it momentum.

"It's uncertain as to whether we will have a hearing on the Hate Crimes Prevention Act," Chaudhuri said. "But here's what I would tell you, again, this is not a partisan issue."

Chaudhuri noted that the Republican-controlled legislature in Georgia passed a hate crimes bill last year after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. He said there's no reason a Republican General Assembly in North Carolina also can't respond to a hate crime incident with new legislation.

But that may be optimistic. Clark Riemer, the chief of staff for Republican state Rep. Jason Saine, addressed the question on WUNC's Politics podcast Friday.

"I don't know as we'll see much of a difference in the reception for this legislation," Riemer said. "While the incident in Atlanta is terrible and horrifying, early reports seem to indicate it wasn't racially motivated… I don't know if it's going to change the narrative."

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David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.