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Michigan Civil Rights Commission calls for strengthened hate crime legislation

view from below of Michigan State Capitol dome
Bimatshu Pyakuryal
A bill package to rework Michigan’s current hate crime law and create a new crime of “institutional desecration” made it out of the state House last month with limited bipartisan support.

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission passed a resolution Monday encouraging the state's lawmakers to strengthen Michigan’s hate crime legislation.

Currently, the closest thing to a hate crime law in Michigan is a ban on “ethnic intimidation.” Despite the law's name, supporters of the new legislation argue the statute is outdated and does not specifically reference ethnicity as a protected class. They argue it likewise leaves out any protections for harassment or intimidation based on a person's sexuality.

Civil Rights Commissioner Gloria Lara said recent incidents, like synagogues being vandalized, highlight the need for new legislation.

“I think it’s important that the Civil Rights Commission does honor this and make a resolution to ascertain that citizens and people in the State of Michigan are protected,” Lara said during Monday’s meeting.

The commission’s resolution doesn’t mention specific legislation.

But a bill package to rework Michigan’s current hate crime law and create a new crime of “institutional desecration” made it out of the state House last month with limited bipartisan support.

Representative Andrew Beeler (R-Port Huron) voted no on the legislation. He said he supports stopping violence, threats and harassment, adding that he’d support strengthening punishments for existing laws.

But he’s worried about whether the legislation defines “intimidation” too broadly.

“My reading of the bill is that intimidation is really in the eye of the person who’s in question here. And so, if you deem that I intimidated you, then I may be liable for committing a hate crime,” Beeler said Monday.

Beeler also noted concerns about the resolution itself.

“Another thing I’d point out about the resolution … is its encouragement of cracking down on behaviors and activities that, quote, 'perpetuate attitudes and beliefs.' Well, what types of attitudes and beliefs?” Beeler asked.

The worries have also frequently been echoed by critics of the bill package who question the potential logical extremes of its wording.

The bill concerning hate crimes itself uses the standard of what a “reasonable person” would find intimidating.

“'Intimidate’ means a willful course of conduct involving repeated or continuing harassment of another individual that would cause a reasonable individual to feel terrorized, frightened, or threatened, and that actually causes the victim to feel terrorized, frightened, or threatened. Intimidate does not include constitutionally protected activity or conduct that serves a legitimate purpose,” the legislation read.

During Monday’s commission meeting, Commissioner Luke Londo noted critics like Beeler had questioned whether using the wrong pronouns for someone could constitute intimidation.

Londo vehemently pushed back against the idea.

“While everybody has the right to hate speech under the First Amendment, they do not have the right to engage in conduct that is — results in intimidation, results in stalking, results in harassment,” Londo said.

The legislation currently sits before the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary, and Public Safety Committee.

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