With all the Olympics hype, presidential pomp and battleground nerves, it’s no wonder that Charles Black thought there was an explosion. But terrorism comes in small, inert packages, too. Even on Valentine’s Day.
It was 1:30 a.m. when Black and Peter Christie, who live just blocks from Rice-Eccles Stadium, were jolted out of sleep. Black stepped out of bed, and onto shattered glass. Christie ran to the living room. Three windows were broken; three bricks lay as part of a troubling puzzle which, when put together read, “Fuck off Fags. Get Out Salt Lake City or You Will Die and All Your (Gay) Friends Too. —SLC Crew.” Oh, something else was scrawled on the bricks, too. A discharging handgun.
Days later, friends and fellow church members gathered at the home to pray for peace and those who did the crime. No one questioned that it was a crime and that hatred, however misguided, was at the root. Salt Lake City police have even offered a $3,000 reward for information.
But the connections are harder to make in the legal arena, and Utah legislators are by far the hardest sell. They always have been, even nine years ago when they finally compromised with then-Minority Leader Frank Pignanelli to call these expressions of hate Class A misdemeanors.
This year there was no compromising. Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, just seemed a little chafed. This legislation was so flawed, he said, that he didn’t know where to begin.
“How do you get into a person’s mind?” Valentine asks. “We would have to rewrite the whole bill. This has protected groups without protecting individuals.”
That only begins Valentine’s list, and he’s checking it twice with Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, and the indefatigable Eagle Forum folks.
Maybe proponents were lucky to get it on the table at all in a Legislature which is leaning more and more to the right with each election. But hate crimes in 2002 were as much a memorial to a lost colleague as a realistic attempt at shaping the law.
Sen. Alicia Suazo, D-Salt Lake, carried the bill after her husband, Pete, was killed in an ATV accident and she took his place on the Senate floor. Now she understands Pete’s mental ups and downs during the sessions.
“He could never understand why everyone didn’t have his same passion,” Suazo says. Oh, she can see it, and she’s feeling really burned by the whole process now.
“I guess I could have just presented the same bill that Pete had,” she says. Instead, Suazo was persuaded to use model legislation which had already withstood a legal test.
In 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Wisconsin hate crimes law, drafted by the Anti-Defamation League. “Hate crime statutes are necessary because the failure to recognize and effectively address this unique type of crime could cause an isolated incident to explode into widespread community tension,” the ADL says.
Central to Suazo’s bill was a list of motivating forces—race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or gender—in the commission of another offense. Pete’s bill called it only “bias and prejudice.”
Alicia Suazo could tell she was heading into difficult territory on a number of levels, including the fact that she was new at playing politics.
“Our plan was to hold public hearings to document cases,” she says. “But then we bumped into the Olympics, and we were told not to bring any unwanted PR on Utah. We were guaranteed they would let the bill out of the Rules Committee so it would get the hearing it deserves. It was nice of them to let it out.”
But it was calculated, too. There was no time to debate and revise the bill.
“I don’t understand what happened, but some of the senators may have thought this was Pete’s original bill,” she says. Valentine had helped amend Pete Suazo’s bill last year.
He was of no mind to do any amending now. There’s no connection between the offensive activity and the element of hate, he says. The bill could have allowed prosecution if a crime took place months after the offender had made some kind of hateful remarks, he says. Like maybe it’s a coincidence.
Then, there’s that group thing. “You can’t commit a crime against a group,” says Valentine. “The protections are on the associations of a group rather than your identity to the group. We’ve protected groups without protecting individuals.” It’s an interesting concept, although a little oblique.
Valentine calls it a philosophical difference in approach. It is precisely the part to which the Eagle Forum objects. Something about heterosexuals not being defined as a group.
Alicia Suazo is exhausted from the fight. Maybe she won’t run for Senate. Maybe Reps. David Litvack or Duane Bourdeau could carry it next year, she says.
“I don’t think it’s going to be abandoned,” Suazo says. “But as for me being my own person—I did it for Pete.”
Valentine has a whole sheaf of reasons he doesn’t like this bill, but one is particularly poignant. “People are affronted by a system of cases that should have been prosecuted in the first place,” he says. “Part of it is lack of enforcement. An assault is an assault, but if the prosecutors and the police couldn’t make the case, then they wouldn’t be able to enhance it.”
In fact, no police or prosecutors have testified that they need a new hate crimes law, he says. “Does it hurt more if it didn’t get prosecuted?” Valentine asks. Probably, he says. Anonymous hate crimes are even more insidious. No blame, no confrontation, no rationale. No justice.
Charles Black and Peter Christie understand that well.