ProPublica spoke with 15 current or former prosecutors in Texas about the statute. Virtually all said proving intent beyond a reasonable doubt is challenging.
“In most hate crimes, no suspect is ever identified, arrested or charged,” said Shannon Edmonds, director of governmental relations with the Texas District and County Attorneys Association.
On June 29, 2014, for instance, a onetime Dallas City Council candidate spray-painted “666” on a prominent gay monument and the Cathedral of Hope, a predominantly LGBT church. Richard Sheridan said the vandalism, aimed at “strongholds of the Gay community,” was “both an act of love and a warning.”
Jeff Sessions, the then-Alabama senator who is now the country’s attorney general, mounted an hourlong attack on the idea of a federal hate crime statute. Sessions argued that these “despicable” incidents had been successfully prosecuted locally, and that a national law was both unnecessary and unconstitutional.
In Texas, advocates have called on Gov. Greg Abbott to extend the state’s hate crime protections to transgender individuals. Instead, Abbott has so far trained his efforts on seeking to have law enforcement officers covered following the shooting of five Dallas police officers last year. A bill introduced in the Texas legislature would do just that.
So my questions are:
- How can we fix the sort of grey areas of “proving hate or no hate” so that more cases of hate crime are successful?
- I mentioned that high-profile lawyers in Texas are unlikely to take hate crimes due to a low success rate. Realistically, what can be done to better aid victims of hate crimes as they endure the legal process?
- Richard Sheridan said the 666 vandalism in Texas, aimed at “strongholds of the Gay community,” was “both an act of love and a warning.” In a situation like this, is there a way to claim hate crime without infringing on the vandal’s First Amendment rights?
- Building off of that, is there any way to make a hate crime law that uses clear outlines without providing serious loopholes?