Utah Needs to Fix Its Hate Crime Law Problem

When someone brutally attacks a Latino father and son while shouting “I’m here to kill a Mexican!” and “I hate Mexicans!” you’d think that’d be a pretty open and shut case that the attack was a hate crime. Alas, Alan Covington, the man whose bigoted beatings hospitalized Jose and Luis Lopez, will not face hate crime charges.

Due to a major flaw in Utah laws, for a crime to qualify as a hate crime, it can be no more serious than a misdemeanor. I don’t know about you, but when I think of examples of hate crimes, I think of violent felonies, not lesser charges.

“Whether this was a hate crime or not is not even an issue for me to bring to the table,” said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sam Gill. “I don’t have a statute that allows me to do it.”

Accordingly, Utah has never – not even once – been able to prosecute someone for a hate crime at the state level. It’s something the state legislature would need to fix, but has deliberately chosen not to.

That’s not to say there haven’t been attempts. For years, legislators, Republican ones even, have tried to advance a bill that would include felonies as hate crimes, but it lacks sufficient support in committee to even make it to the floor.

The blame for that appears to fall on the Mormon church. It’s difficult to accomplish much of anything in Utah without the approval of the Church of Latter-day Saints, given that nearly all of the states’ legislators are Mormon. In the past, the LDS church has made it clear that it doesn’t want any laws that could be at odds with religious liberty.

Put more bluntly, the Mormons don’t want any laws that wouldn’t allow them to discriminate against gay people. I’d like to hope that even the pious don’t want laws that let people target the LGBT community with assault, but slippery slope, I guess!

“Without the nod of the LDS church, there will be no hate crime bill,” said State Senator Jim Dabakis, a Democrat. “It just seems to me that it’s a slam-dunk for a religion to be against hate crimes.”

His Republican colleague State Senator Daniel Thatcher has been trying to get a vote on legislation that would allow judges to increase the punishments for those who commit crimes against someone because of their ethnicity, gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. for the past two years.

Thatcher admits he used to oppose hate crime laws because he thought consequences for crimes should be uniform. He later learned more about the subject and realized hate crimes are meant to intimidate entire groups of people, making them more damaging to society at large and worthy of greater punishment. However, most of his colleagues are still stuck where he used to be.

Fortunately, Covington, the attacker in this case, will still face multiple other charges that should land him in prison. Nevertheless, Utah legislators need to use this incident as a wakeup call that action needs to be taken. Reflexively protecting discrimination is not nearly as important as protecting vulnerable communities.

56 comments

Helen C
Helen C5 months ago

Thank you for sharing

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silja s
silja salonen6 months ago

violence does not heal ... love does

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Lesa D
Past Member 6 months ago

thank you Kevin...

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Amparo Fabiana C
Amparo Fabiana C6 months ago

Love.

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Barbara S
Barbara S6 months ago

thank you

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Martin H
Martin H6 months ago

Thank you for your report, Kevin.

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Leo C
Leo C6 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan H6 months ago

thanks

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Maria P
Mia P7 months ago

thank you for sharing

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Daniel N
Past Member 7 months ago

Thanks

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