OHIO GOVERNMENT Tougher hate-crimes law being sought
The original bill was sponsored by Lee Fisher.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- Ohio's hate-crimes law, first approved about two decades ago, should be updated to allow for tougher penalties for some crimes, the law's sponsor says.
Burning down a building as a racial or religious threat carries an additional charge and penalty under the law, but not assaults and other violent crimes against people because of their race or beliefs.
"We need to send a message in our society that when you commit a crime against someone because of the color of their skin or religion or ethnic heritage, you are not just committing a crime against that person," said Lee Fisher, a former state senator who sponsored the hate crime law. "You are committing a crime against that entire community and society, and it deserves stiffer punishment."
Fisher, a Cleveland Democrat, is now a candidate for lieutenant governor on the ticket with U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, D-6th of Lisbon.
Current law is limited
Ohio's ethnic intimidation charge is limited to specific misdemeanors, such as menacing, telephone harassment, criminal damaging or arson. An ethnic intimidation conviction increases the penalty for the underlying crime.
Ohio's law is similar to those in 44 other states, said Daniel Elbaum, Midwest counsel for the Anti-Defamation League.
"The majority of [hate crimes] are the lower crimes," Elbaum said. "That's where these laws can be valuable tools for prosecutors."
But Jeff Gamso, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said prosecution for the actual crime should be enough. Punishing people for what they think borders on an infringement of free speech, he said.
"That puts you in a whole different world that says, 'We are going to punish you for your thoughts and not for your actions,"' he said. "We don't do that."
Strengthening laws against race-related crimes shows that cities and states are committed to ending them, said G. Michael Payton, director of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.
"It establishes a value system of what we expect and how we are going to treat each other in the state," he said.
A suburban Columbus man who believes he was the victim of a hate crime also thinks the state's law should be updated. Michael Goggins, 23, said a man repeatedly crashed his van into a car carrying Goggins and three other black men while yelling racial epithets in January.
Brandon S. Nolan, 21, has been charged with felonious assault, but not under the hate crime law.
"I was a victim of a crime," Goggins said. "I want justice for the full crime, not part of it."