In the wake of the horrific events last weekend in Charlottesville, state legislatures are taking a second look at their hate crimes laws. Connecticut is ahead of the curve. Earlier this summer, the state legislature overwhelmingly passed a new hate crimes bill, one of the strongest in the nation.
The law, which was signed by Governor Dannel Malloy in June, increases the punishment for a hate crime from a misdemeanor to a felony.
The law also makes actions including a bomb threat or threat of violence against a house of worship, religious community center, other religious institutions, or any day care facility a class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Democratic State Representative William Tong is the co-chair of the legislature's Judiciary Committee. He said an important part of this law allows the court to order a person convicted of a hate crime to undergo community service as a form of restitution for the victim, a concept called "restorative justice".
“People commit hate crimes and threaten other groups of people who are not like them,” said Tong. “One way to solve that issue is not just to penalize people with fines and throw them in jail, but to make them make amends.”
As an example, Tong pointed to Meriden resident Ted Hakey, Jr. Hakey was convicted of a federal hate crime for shooting up the Baitul Aman Mosque in Meriden as a response to the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2016. Before his sentencing, he gave an emotional apology to the members of the mosque. The mosque forgave Hakey, and even asked the sentencing judge to spare him prison time. He eventually served six months in federal prison.
Tong said Connecticut's new hate crimes law is the toughest in the country, and will serve as a deterrent for any racist group that may consider a show of force similar to Charlottesville.
“Hate crimes deserve the strongest condemnation under the law,” said Tong. “I think that that will help people, and make people think twice about marching down the street with a tiki torch, threatening others, and openly spewing hate.”
According to the Connecticut Anti-Defamation League, hate crimes in Connecticut have doubled since last summer, while anti-Semitic incidents rose 68 percent from 2015 to 2016.