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Salt Lake County joins movement to sharpen Utah hate crime laws

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County has joined a handful of other Utah cities and counties urging state lawmakers to pass stricter hate crimes laws.

The County Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday urging the Utah Legislature to beef up laws to address crimes that target people because of their race, religion or sexual orientation.

County Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw, who helped draft an initial version of the resolution, spoke of how the June 2016 shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that left 49 people dead affected him personally. Bradshaw is openly gay.

"I ugly cried when I heard about it," he said. "I still get emotional thinking about it."

Bradshaw also recalled an incident a year earlier in his neighborhood when two men walking home from a Christmas party were attacked by some men shouting anti-gay slurs.

Bradshaw, a Democrat, and Republican Councilman Michael Jensen sponsored the resolution — but a second version of the resolution was adopted after Councilman Richard Snelgrove offered a more detailed draft with a more expansive list of religious groups known to be targeted, including Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jehovah's Witnesses, Orthodox Christians and others.

"I'd like to see less hate in our community," Snelgrove said. "Less racism. Less homophobia. Less Islamophobia. Less Mormonphobia. Less anti-Semitism. It's just not right to have in our community."

Salt Lake County joins six other Utah governments that have approved similar resolutions: Beaver County, Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake, West Jordan, Midvale, and Moab.

Dozens of other Utah organizations have also called for stronger tools to address crimes targeting groups, including the Statewide Association of Prosecutors, Utah Chiefs of Police Association, the Utah Sentencing Commission and Utah Sheriff's Association. Prosecutors have said the current law is unenforceable because it lacks a list of specific groups.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill on Tuesday recalled his own jarring experience that occurred after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He said as he walked out of the courtroom, some people in a white pickup truck shouted at him, called him a racial slur, and told him "go home" or "we'll (expletive) kill you."

"I thought about the community I belong to — other Indians who were going to be targeted because of what was going on," he said.

Gill said hate crimes have three victims: the person who's targeted, the community that person belongs to because of the "chilling effect" and society as a whole.

"Our common sense, our decency and our sense of fairness demand that when our citizens are in need of this kind of sanctuary ... we have a responsibility to listen to that," Gill said. "All we're asking our Legislature to do is to listen to that cry and say that there is a remedy."

In recent years, the Utah Legislature has refrained from strengthening the state's hate crimes laws, worried new laws might give special protections to certain groups over others.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, is sponsoring another bill after his first attempt wasn't allowed a public hearing. He introduced the bill after another Republican senator's hate crimes bill was voted down.

Thatcher, however, insists his new bill not be called a "hate crimes" bill, but rather a "victim selection" bill, one that addresses crimes targeting victims because of their sexual orientation, race, religion, nationality and disability.

Gill on Tuesday cited FBI statistics that hate crimes have risen 40 percent since 2015.

In Utah, about 566 hate crimes have been reported to the Department of Public Safety since 2007, Gill said.

On a more "granular level," Gill said, in Salt Lake County 26 hate crimes were reported in 2016 — including 21 for race and ethnicity, three for religion, one for sexual orientation and one for disability.