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Photo: Photo by Michelle Shephard-Pool/Getty Images
Photo: Photo by Michelle Shephard-Pool/Getty Images

Hate crime law passes in Sandy Springs to increase penalties

Doing what the state legislature hasn’t, Sandy Springs City Council passed a hate-crime law this week.

Council members on Tuesday unanimously approved a law asking police to track hate-crimes and encouraging judges to increase penalties for those convicted of using “hate or bias-motivated crimes (to) terrorize individual victims and their families, institutions and businesses.”

Georgia is one of four states without a hate-crime law on the books. There’s been an unsuccessful, years-long effort to change that — including failed attempts the last two legislative sessions.

The local law Sandy Springs approved Tuesday seemingly won’t curb violent hate-crimes because its purview is only the low-level offenses that come through the city’s municipal court. The hate-crime designation can only be added to an underlying conviction.

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Ordinance sponsor and Councilman Andy Bauman gave an example: A graffiti conviction can now have a stricter penalty if a swastika was spray painted on the house of someone who is Jewish than if a student from an opposing school spray pained their mascot on a rival’s campus.

Bauman said those are different crimes because one terrorizes a community. “The victim isn’t just the victim,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Data from the FBI shows hate-crimes are on the rise nationally but said they aren’t a “common occurrence” in Sandy Springs.

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When asked why such a law was needed then, Bauman said: “It’s not a problem until it’s a problem.” 

He said he remembers going with leaders of the Anti-Defamation League to now-retired House Judiciary Committee chairman Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, to convince him of the need for a statewide law.

“Wendell had to be educated, but he’s a quick learner,” Baumann said.

Willard made it basically his last act as House Judiciary Committee chairman to reintroduce the statewide proposal in March 2018.

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The most recent effort, House Bill 426, was approved 96-64 in the state House in March 2019 and stalled in the Senate.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, previously said he believes victims should have an equal chance at justice, referring to the increased penalties.

Democrat State Rep. Josh McLaurin told the AJC on Tuesday that he supported the city’s new hate-crime law. He described such crimes as “a community harm.”

It’s not over for HB 426; it’ll have another chance to come back during the 2020 session.

In other news...

A new report by the Anti-Defamation League finds anti-Semitic incidents at “near-historic levels.” The watchdog group recorded 30 incidents last year in Georgia alone. Included in the overall calculations were the distribution of white supremacist literature and white supremacist demonstrations. One such demonstration was held in Newnan by the National Socialist Movement. Although there was a decline in anti-Semitic vandalism, incidents of harassment and assault rose.

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