Thursday, June 14, 2001

State of Hawaii

Signing of hate crimes
law ends decade of
frustration for many

Cases in the last 3 years show
the law is overdue, backers say

By Richard Borreca

After a decade of debate, Hawaii joined nearly all the other states in approving a hate crimes law.

The legislation, signed into law by acting Gov. Mazie Hirono yesterday at the state Capitol, provides for enhanced sentencing for persons convicted of felonies in which a victim is selected because of the race, religion, disability, ethnicity, national origin or sexual orientation.

The law also provides for statistics to be kept on hate crimes.

The federal government first approved a hate crimes statistics law in 1990.

Local supporters, including Hirono, who introduced legislation when she was a state representative, found the bill blocked until 1999.

In 1998, Kenneth Brewer, a gay man, was beaten to death by Stephen Bright. Bright admitted beating Brewer but claimed it was self-defense because he thought he was about to be sexually assaulted. Although charged with murder, Bright was convicted of third-degree assault, a misdemeanor.

That crime and the outrage it triggered refocused the discussion, said Bill Woods, a member of the Hawaii Hate Crimes Task Force.

"The concept of hate crimes wasn't discussed; the media didn't discuss it," he said.

Hawaii's socially progressive laws have slowed in the last 20 years, according to Woods.

"Hawaii took a back seat on doing anything until a poll was taken, as opposed to the 1970s when if we saw an issue, we dealt with it," Woods said.

Hirono said, "Because we have such tolerance and diversity of Hawaii, perhaps people didn't think it was an issue; but people who work in civil rights and domestic violence, they are well aware of these kinds of hatreds."

Hirono also pointed to the two teenage Kauai men accused of attacking a group of gay campers at Polihale State Park last month who are charged with attempted murder as reason for the new law.

Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, however, notes that the new law is not the final answer to hate crimes. First, the law only pertains to felonies, so in the case of Brewer, because his killer was convicted of a misdemeanor, the hate crimes law would not have applied, Carlisle said.

Second, in some cases the motivation is simply hatred of a person.

"If someone kills me because I am a man, that would be a hate crime, but if someone kills me because I am an obnoxious neighbor, it is not a hate crime, but I, as the victim, would have a hard time telling the difference," Carlisle said.

But Carlisle said the chance to increase the penalty for a crime with an extended sentence would be helpful in certain cases.

"If a person is convicted of a felony, it will have a potential impact," he said.

State of Hawaii

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