F’ville’s Chief Heaton in push for hate crime laws

Tue, 03/25/2008 - 3:53pm
By: Ben Nelms

See our editorial opinion about the chief’s position – Click here.

Fayetteville Police Chief Steve Heaton made a recent stop at the Gold Dome as part of the Georgia Association of Police Chiefs’ support for an Anti-Defamation League press conference held March 21 that called for the enacting of hate crimes legislation.

Heaton said the association supports the passage of such legislation in Georgia. The state is one of a handful in the United States without hate crimes legislation.

An article on the press conference by Southern Voice Online questioned whether legislation in Georgia had stalled over the inclusion of gays. For his part, Heaton said he attended the press conference as a spokesperson for Georgia Police Chiefs to advocate for legislation.

“Most crimes are crimes of opportunity,” Heaton said Monday. “Hate crimes are different. It’s because of the dislike of the perpetrator for a particular segment of the population or those with a different skin color and they target those groups or individuals within those groups.”

Every criminal case must stand on its own, Heaton said. And responding to the question on the distinction between hate crimes and thought crimes, Heaton said that distinction exists when it results in a tangible event.

“Thoughts or speech is one thing. But when you translate it into action, that’s when you step over the line,” he said. “And as for the prosecution of hate crimes, that’s when speech goes beyond thought to an action targeted at an individual or group that can be proved in court beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Heaton said a January 2005 resolution by the chiefs’ association is indicative of the organization’s stand on hate crime issues.

The resolution supports the view that a crime of hate is one that is perpetrated against any person or property because of actual or perceived color, race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

The resolution cites the need in Georgia for alternative sentencing in cases where it is found that the perpetrator selected the victim based on those criteria and that the association is supportive of enhanced criminal sentencing of a perpetrator whenever the court determines beyond a reasonable doubt that the person intentionally selected the victim or property as an object of the offense for which they are convicted.

“Things like those mentioned in the press conference, like drawing a swastika, are an example. People have a right to be protected regardless of the color of their skin or the beliefs they hold. Hate crimes can affect an entire community,” Heaton said. “And a quick response is needed to ensure the community that law enforcement and the justice system are there to protect them.”

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Submitted by boxwing on Wed, 03/26/2008 - 6:05pm.

I have never understood the concept of "hate crime" legislation. Since we have freedom of thought and speech, we have a tradition of prosecuting people based on their actions. Assault is assault, murder is murder and for each the criminal should receive punishment. Now with "hate crimes" we also prosecute them for their thoughts in addition to their actions. Is the next step to move to criminalizing the "hate thought" itself? When that day comes our freedom of thought and speech will be gone.

All of us have thoughts from time to time that would offend others or be regarded as hateful. Thank goodness we also have the intellect to control those thoughts and not act on them. The rest of the world sees our ACTIONS and judges us on that, not the thoughts.

Sometimes we are so focused on building rules for those we don’t like that we forget that those same rules might be used against us!

sam0917's picture
Submitted by sam0917 on Wed, 03/26/2008 - 8:07am.

I think a chance to make a difference is all this new chief is looking for and asking for. You're asking him "what is he thinking" and "what city is he speaking for". He's speaking for this city and he's thinking into the future because he's looking at how the crime here has progressed just since he's taken over. Even if it's only progressed slightly and things are "relatively calm" as one blogger put it, he's trying to put things in place for our city where he and his officers will be able to charge someone with something more substantial than disorderly conduct when and if these types of crimes do rear their ugly heads.

Why don't we think back for a minute and remember the chief he replaced and remember how little we heard anything from him or about him until the scandal broke loose. Why do you think that was? Because he didn't get out into things and try to make a difference or even act like he cared about what was going on unless it got his name in the paper. If you worked within the justice system in Fayette then you would understand the need for a chief and sheriff that want to step up to the plate and try to prepare this city and county for crimes like this because you would see how each crime that comes up seems to escalate ever so slightly. All I'm saying is don't fault him for trying to look ahead and be prepared for something that hopefully will not happen here but is probably going to. The fact remains that there are still some very prejudiced, biggoted and backwards people around here that will commit some sort of crime against someone for being a certain color, creed, religion, etc. No, thinking it doesn't make it a crime but if someone out there is going to think it then they will do it!!! I can't remember the young man's name that was beaten, tortured and left tied to a fence in a pasture to die because he was gay but Hilary Swank played him in a movie, don't you think his parents were glad that laws like this one the chief is fighting for existed. Just give him a chance.

NUK_1's picture
Submitted by NUK_1 on Wed, 03/26/2008 - 8:34am.

Hillary Swank was in a movie called "Boys Don't Cry" about the true story of a girl masquerading as a guy who gets murdered, but that wasn't the same as the Matthew Shepherd case you mentioned. The movie did happen to be released the same day that Shepherd was killed by some rednecks.

As far as the previous chief of PD, Murray was definitely pretty visible in the community and I don't see how people didn't notice, besides the media.

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