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Michigan Civil Rights Commission calls on Legislature to Pass Anti-Bias Crime Legislation

July 26, 2016

Citing the need to beef up and expand Michigan laws prohibiting bias-based hate crimes, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission (the Commission) on Monday called upon the legislature to amend Michigan’s Ethnic Intimidation Act to add gender identification, sexual orientation and disability, and to change the name of the legislation to the “Bias Crime Act.”

“For almost two decades, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission has called for closing the loopholes that allow criminals in Michigan to get away with committing bias-based hate crimes,” said Arthur Horwitz, co-chair of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. “Now, with the support of Senators Rick Jones and Steven Bieda for legislation to do just that, we have a rare opportunity to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

The Commission and the Michigan Department of Civil Rights have a decades-long history of advocating for expansion of and refinements to Michigan’s anti-bias laws.

In 1994, Governor Engler charged the Commission with forming a Bias Crime Task Force, which included representatives from law enforcement, civil and human rights organizations, religious and civic groups.  In 1997, the Task Force issued a specific list of recommendations:

  • Changing the name of the Ethnic Intimidation Act to "Bias Crime Act,” to cover more than just intimidation based on ethnicity;

  • Expanding coverage of the Act by adding “age, handicap and sexual orientation”;

  • Expanding the Act to include crimes against persons "perceived" to be members of a targeted group, thus avoiding a dismissal where the offender mistakenly assumed that a victim was a member of a protected group;

  • Strengthening the penalty provision for violation of the Act.

Again in 2009, the Commission joined the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, Michigan State Police, the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan and a number of social justice organizations in support of House Bill 4836, which would have addressed each of the four Task Force recommended changes. The bill was passed by the House but was not acted on by the Senate.

“These changes to Michigan hate crimes law – changes we have advocated for nearly 20 years - have never been more important than they are today,” said Rasha Demashkieh, co-chair of the Commission. “We urge the legislature to waste no more time in updating and expanding this law, and saying to the rest of the country that the state of Michigan will not stand by and allow crimes of hate to continue unanswered.”

The Commission passed the resolution unanimously at their July 25, 2016 meeting in Port Huron.  For the full text of the resolution, go to the MDCR website, here.

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission was created by the Michigan Constitution to carry out constitutional and legal guarantees against discrimination. The Commission is charged with investigating alleged discrimination against any person because of religion, race, color or national origin, sex, age, marital status, height, weight, arrest record, and physical and mental disability.