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Attorney General hosts roundtable on how to protect Virginians from hate crimes

RICHMOND, Va. -- Attorney General Mark Herring, local officials, and community activists held a roundtable Tuesday morning to discuss what could be done to reduce the number of hate crimes in Virginia.

The meeting, held at Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church, was the third of a series of meetings after Herring put his support behind legislation to stop the growing trend.

Virginia State Police report hate crimes have gone up nearly 50% from 2016 to 2017 and up 65% over the last five years.

According to FBI statistics, there were 193 hate crimes reported in Virginia in 2017. The FBI reported 122 hate crimes statewide in 2016 and 158 in 2015.  Locally, Chesterfield County reported nine hate crimes, Henrico County reported one, and the City of Richmond reported two.

Mark Herring

The majority of reported hate crimes were based on the victim's race or ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation, the FBI reported.

“We will hear from communities who have been impacted by hate crimes and we can have a really robust discussion. We put a lot of legislative ideas out there, but I’m willing to work with anyone who want to make sure our communities are safe, and everyone is protected,” said Herring.

People of all different backgrounds and walks of life chimed in during the roundtable discussion Tuesday. One man said change comes by taking the conversation beyond legislation and into the schools.

“Numerous questions what’s this rag that you have on your head. He said a majority of those questions were not from his fellow students but from teachers. This is what we need to address, a lack of education.”

Another woman said she believes change starts in the community.

“Cultural competence is what we need to expand beyond to the community and how to do that an education component… that was shocking to hear.”

Attorney General Mark Herring and his team have been working to develop legislation that will update hate crimes while also clearly defining what constitutes a hate crime in Virginia.

A few proposed bills include:

  • Keeping guns away from those convicted of hate crimes
  • Empowering the attorney general to prosecute hate crimes
  • Identifying and intervening in the actions of violent white supremacist and other hate groups.

Herring said those bills take a number of approaches to address hate crimes in Virginia:

  • Modernizing Virginia's definition of a hate crime by including offenses committed based off the victim's gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.  Current state law defines a hate crime as an act against someone based off their "race, religion or national origin."
  • Prohibiting "paramilitary activity"
  • Identifying hate groups and making it harder for them to operate
  • Allowing localities to restrict firearms in public spaces during permitted events
  • Restricting gun rights to people convicted of hate crimes

Attorney General Herring is making his way around the state. There will another roundtable in Charlottesville Wednesday.

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