Does Wyoming Actually NOT Have a Hate Crime Law?
A disturbing question has surfaced lately in Wyoming due to some unfortunate events in the state that have received national attention, but that question is, "Does Wyoming have a hate crime law?"
In 2021, you would think a simple factual response to that question could be, "Of course Wyoming has a hate crime law." However, it doesn't seem that simple, and that in itself is disturbing.
The state is considered to be one of the few remaining that don't currently have a hate crime law in place. There is also currently an ongoing debate of whether Wyoming statute 6-9-102 constitutes as Wyoming's hate crime law as it states:
No person shall be denied the right to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness or the necessities of life because of race, color, sex, creed or national origin.
Should anyone violate the statute, it would be a misdemeanor with a potential maximum sentence of six months, up to a fine of $750, or possibly both.
According to the ACLU of Wyoming, that is the state's hate crime law. But that is often viewed as purely an 'anti-discrimination' law, and not actually a hate crime law.
Rep. Pat Sweeney, a Republican from Casper, is at the forefront of attempting to push for hate crime reform in the state of Wyoming and he has said:
It actually functions as an anti-discrimination measure...I don’t consider Wyoming to have a hate crime law, and I don’t want to be the last.
Since 2015, there have been 13 hate crimes reported in Wyoming. However, a looming fear is the idea of that being abysmally underreported. The reason for this is that no mandatory reporting requirement currently exists for Wyoming law enforcement. But agencies in several other states do have that.
The growing concern of a 'non-existent hate crime law' in Wyoming has come to light recently due to recent hateful incidents in the state, such as:
- Rilee Bumgardner-Shipley, a transgender woman, was attacked and beaten just outside her apartment complex in Casper and she was verbally called several terms considered to be hate speech.
- Mikayla Oz, a magician, canceled her show in Gillette after receiving threats from members of the community when they found out she was transgender.
- The Eagle's Nest in Cheyenne had previously been selling homophobic shirts for a number of years that depicted hate speech toward gay people.
All of those incidents came about in July, as in last month.
Despite this, Wyoming lawmakers have been attempting to address the issue of hate crime legislation, but have been unsuccessful thus far. This will be revisited in September when the Joint Judiciary Committee will present two bill drafts to address the issue of hate crime reform. One bill would require the reporting of hate crimes by law enforcement. The second bill would look to expand protections for more groups that are not currently included.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act became a federal law back in 2009. Shepard, a gay college student from Wyoming, was murdered back in 1998. However, Wyoming is viewed as one of the few remaining states to not have its own hate crime law. The only others that don't are South Carolina and Arkansas. And according to the Brennan Center for Justice, neither do North Dakota or Indiana.
That is, unless you consider the aforementioned 6-9-102 statute as a hate crime law. Senior Policy Researcher at the Movement Advancement Project, Logan Casey, does not, and considers it only an 'anti-discrimination section'. Casey says:
Addressing hate violence is vital, and hate crime laws serve an important purpose...Like any law, hate crime laws alone won’t fix a problem as large as rising hate violence, which is why we need to improve our hate crime laws and engage in broader solutions to reducing hate in our country.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and the Brennan Center for Justice, Wyoming is considered as one of the few states remaining that does not have a hate crime law in place at this time.
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