Hate Crimes

An assault against a teenage boy in Spring has led to demands for changes to the state's hate crimes legislation. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, several advocacy groups are asking lawmakers to stiffen the penalties for hate crimes.

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After a 17-year-old Hispanic boy was beaten and sodomized, many people demanded for prosecution under the hate crimes act against the alleged assailants. But it turns out Texas law regarding hate crimes would carry a lesser penalty than those for sexual assault and the law doesn't apply to crimes that take place in a residence. Jose Jiminez is the deputy director of LULAC's Houston office.

"Our community has reacted to a brutal crime in Spring, Texas. LULAC has accomplished having the Department of Justice open a formal civil rights violation case. Now LULAC is being proactive. Our goal is to change the current Texas hate crime law and increase its influence. We want to make sure that hate gangs know that their actions will not go unpunished as hate crimes. This is not about hispanics or race; this is about hate."

State Senator Rodney Ellis authored the state's original hate-crimes legislation in the early 1990s. He says next session he will submit an amendment to the act that would allow prosecutors to seek the higher penalty punishment while still using the hate crime designation. And he wants all hate crime perpetrators to be tracked in the state.

"I think we ought to require registration of hate crime offenders, all of them, comparable to what we do for sex offenders. In simplistic language: if registration is good enough for sex offenders, it's good enough for skinheads."

LULAC is joining with the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League in requesting the enhanced hate crime legislation. LULAC District Director Rick Ovalina says there is a difference between an assault and a hate crime and the law needs to reflect that.

"Under the law you always look at the intent. What happened? Was it a -- you know -- people were just angry at each other over a football game or somebody lost his temper or what? But when you do a hate crime, the intent there is to hurt. And not just to physically assault, but really to terrorize and it's more about terror."

David Tuck and Robert Turner have been charged with aggravated sexual assault in this case. Ellis decided the hate crime registry was needed after officials learned Tuck's name has been associated with a hate crime in the past. Ellis says he hopes the law will be changed to allow additional years to be added to the punishment for those convicted of hate crimes. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.

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