‘Families are worried’: Advocate for people with disabilities speaks with AG on hate crimes bills

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — After proposing a packet of bills to combat hate crimes and white supremacist groups, Virginia’s top prosecutor is holding a series of roundtables across the Commonwealth. 

“It’s important that our legislators hear it first hand,” Attorney General Mark Herring said. “We are all Virginians.”

Herring sat at the head of a table in the basement of Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church in Richmond on Tuesday. 

To his left was Jack Brandt, an advocate for people with disabilities. He has cerebral palsy and communicates with the help of Sanam Hashemi. 

“Families are worried about the safety of their loved ones,” Brandt said. 

The Attorney General is pitching six proposals in all. Many were created in reaction to the violent rallies that turned deadly in Charlottesville last year. A few were brought up during session last year but didn’t gain traction with lawmakers.

“Since then we are seeing hate crimes continuing to rise,” Herring said.

According to Virginia State Police, 202 hate crimes were reported in 2017. Eleven incidents targeted people with disabilities. 

“I have met people who have been discriminated against – up to physical violence,” Brandt explained. “Also, taking away of equipment such as crutches and wheelchairs, I’ve even heard of people withholding food.” 

One of the ideas expands the definition of hate crimes to include people with disabilities, as well as gender, gender identity and sexual orientation. Right now, the word “disability” isn’t included in Virginia’s code. 

This additional language to the law, Brandt says, will protect more Virginians. 

“It will ensure families and people with disability that extra layer of safety,” Brandt said. 

Del. Kenneth Plum (D-36th District) is sponsoring this bill. 

Another bill, backed by Del. David Toscano (D-57th District), would allow localities to ban firearms at a public event if a permit is required for the event to take place.

One of the bills would give law enforcement more tools to identify white supremacist and hate groups that may be violent and intervene before anything happens. It’s being sponsored by Del. Marcia Price (D-95th District).

There’s also a measure that would allow Attorney General Herring to prosecute hate crimes through the Commonwealth’s network of multi-jurisdictional or regional grand juries. That bill is backed by Del. Lamont Bagby (D-74th District. 

In direct response to the paramilitary activity seen in Charlottesville, Herring wants to prevent private militias from forming. Sen. Louisa Lucas (D-District 18) is sponsoring it.

The last piece of legislation, Herring previously described, would close a “loophole” to stop people convicted of a hate crime from getting a gun. This is now being sponsored by Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th District). 

Click here to read more about the legislative proposals. 

There are three other roundtable discussions being held in Charlottesville on Wednesday, Norfolk on Thursday and in Roanoke on Dec. 19. 

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