‘Hate that lives next door’: Senate OKs expansion to Michigan hate crime laws

JeDonna Matthews Dinges (Michigan Advance/Ken Coleman)

By Michigan Advance

March 25, 2024


MICHIGAN—JeDonna Dinges, a resident of Grosse Pointe Woods, told senators considering an expansion of Michigan’s hate crime laws that she considers herself “a pretty tough person.”

“My parents taught me to work hard, stand up for myself and to speak up for those without a voice,” Dinges told the state Senate Public Safety Committee in November. “Even with all of my Black girl magic, I was unprepared to have an evil neighbor hang a Klan flag in a window 6 feet from my home, threatening the emotional and mental safety of myself and my family.”

Dinges recalled her 2021 struggle to get law enforcement to act and to navigate a legal system that she said lacks proper understanding of what hate means and how it can escalate. She and her family have since had to move and her daughter had nightmares about the neighbor shooting and killing her and her family.

The legislation that Dinges put her support behind in the hopes that no one would be left without legal recourse after suffering a hate crime finally passed the Michigan Senate last week.

The bills, SB 600 and SB 601, sponsored by state Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit), would change the laws surrounding hate crimes, expanding the definition from “ethnic intimidation” to “a hate crime” perpetrated on the basis race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, ethnicity, disability, age or nationality.

Use of violence, bodily injury, stalking, defacement to physical and online property and threats of harm would now be added to what constitutes a hate crime.

For as long as society fails to live in a more perfect union, better protections against hate are needed, Santana said at the Nov. 2 meeting of the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

“From klansmen burning crosses on people’s front lawns, battering and killing African Americans in the South, to people being called everything but their names to current day conflicts in the Middle East impacting the way people treat each other right here in our home state … I represent the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the United States and the largest city of African Americans and yet there still are challenges for just respecting each other for who we truly are,” Santana said.

The bills passed the Senate on Tuesday along partisan lines with no Republicans voting in approval of the bills. This was the last voting day of the Legislature before lawmakers are off until April 9.

Together, the bills would set charging standards for hate crime offenses.

The first offense of making a threat classified as a hate crime could result in a misdemeanor charge carrying a possible one-year sentence and a $1,000 fine.

If a person uses force of violence or inflicts bodily harm, stalks another person or damages their property for reasons constituting a hate crime, they could be charged with a felony at first offense and could face a two-year sentence and a $2,000 fine. Individuals who are charged with making a second threat as a hate crime face the same penalties.

If a person for a second time uses force of violence, inflicts bodily harm, stalks another person or damages their property for reasons constituting a hate crime, they could be charged with a felony with a four-year sentence and a $5,000 fine. If any of these actions are perpetrated by two or more people or if the perpetrator is an adult and the victim is a minor, the same penalties would apply.

If a person makes a threat while in possession of a firearm or other weapon, they would be subject to the felony charge carrying up to a four-year sentence and a $5,000 fine. But if a person does any of the actions outside of threats in possession of a firearm or other weapon, such offenses would be a felony carrying up to six years and a $7,500 fine.

The bills will now go to the House for consideration.

READ MORE: Nessel highlights role of AG Hate Crimes Unit

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license. 



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