Ohio’s hate-crime law falls short — as incidents reveal
The shortcomings of Ohio’s hate-crime law have emerged in the recent attacks on gays and transgender victims in Cleveland. The law’s failure to include sexual orientation and sexual identity is amplified by the fact that Cleveland and Akron are preparing to host the 2014 Gay Games.
Ohio joins 14 other states — including Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Indiana — that have failed to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their hate crime statute. Only five states have no hate crime statute whatsoever. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have hate-crime laws that include sexual orientation and gender identity and the remaining 15 address only sexual orientation, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Ohio law broadly defines hate crimes as criminal acts motivated by prejudice or intolerance and directed toward a member of a gender, racial, religious or social group, according to the Ohio Bar Association website.
Aspect of a crime
Ohio’s hate crime statutes are not stand-alone statutes meaning that the “hate” aspect of a crime is punishable either through a “penalty enhancement” or as a “discretionary sentencing factor.”
The only Ohio statute that speaks directly to hate crimes is “ethnic intimidation.” The statute prohibits specific existing conduct when carried out for reasons of race, color, religion or national origin of the victim.
The inadequacy of Ohio’s hate-crime statute was evident last month, when the body of a 52-year-old disabled, transgender woman, was discovered by her caregiver at an assisted living facility in Cleveland. A second transgender woman was found the next morning shot to death in a car along a Cleveland street.
“These are crimes of hate,” Ed Tomba, deputy chief of the Cleveland Police Department told the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer. “We acknowledge that, make no mistake about it, but as far as the law goes ... we will take these two crimes to the federal government, we will ask them to review them and see if they fall under the hate crime statute.”
In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act — both sexual orientation and gender identity are specifically included in federal law. The law extended the federal hate crimes statute protecting people against violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity along with race, religion, gender, national origin and disability.
In Ohio, local police must present the evidence of a hate crime based on sexual orientation and gender identity to the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice, which ultimately decides whether to pursue the case in federal court.
Last fall, two gay men were attacked outside a well-known LGBT bar in Cleveland. Police arrested two individuals last month, including a 13-year-old boy, in connection with the two assaults.
Attacks based on sexual orientation are nothing new. Ohio Department of Public Safety records indicate 16 percent of hate crimes are based on sexual orientation, ranking it behind race at 48 percent and disability at 18 percent, but ahead of crimes based on ethnicity and religion.
However, efforts to include sexual orientation and gender identity in Ohio’s hate-crime statute have failed. A bill proposed in 2011 would have inserted “sexual orientation, gender, identity and disability” into the hate crimes statute. The bill never made it out of committee.
A new bipartisan hate crime bill introduced several months ago would once again attempt to include sexual orientation, gender identity and disability in Ohio’s statute.
The new bill introduced by Rep. Nickie Antonio has Republican and Democratic co-sponsors. “The majority of Ohioans value fairness and do not support hate crimes committed against any group,” Antonio told the Plain Dealer. “All Ohioans should be protected from intimidation and fear.”
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” is due out this summer. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com