North Carolina

‘Past time to do something.’ NC lawmaker revives hate crimes prevention bill.

A hate-crime bill that has yet to be debated in the state legislature more than five months after it was filed is getting renewed attention. Rep. Nasif Majeed says after even more mass shootings, state lawmakers have to do something.

The recent mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, targeted Latino people.

“It’s terrible we have inactivity on hate crime [legislation] in light of today,” Majeed said in an interview with The News & Observer on Thursday. “This is timely again, and past time we do something.”

House Bill 312, which is titled the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, would increase the penalty for a hate crime from a misdemeanor to a felony. It would also require the State Bureau of Investigation to create and maintain a hate crimes database, training for attorneys on how to prosecute them and also require law enforcement training on identifying, responding to and reporting hate crimes.

Now Majeed, a freshman Democrat from Charlotte in the Republican-controlled General Assembly, has taken the rarely successful step of filing a discharge petition. That can force a move to the floor for a bill stuck in committee, but only if enough lawmakers sign on in agreement.

Chapel Hill murders

Majeed referenced the 2015 murders in Chapel Hill of Yusor Abu-Salha, 21; her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19; and Abu-Salha’s husband Deah Barakat, 23; who were Muslim. Craig Hicks pleaded guilty to their murders in June. He was not charged with a hate crime.

The Our Three Winners Foundation, a nonprofit that works to eliminate hate, was created in their memory. Nida Allam was their friend and is former operations director for the Our Three Winners Foundation. She spoke with Majeed when he filed the bill in March. Majeed and Allam are also Muslim. She said that even if the discharge petition filed Wednesday doesn’t work, it is still a way to call out legislators about where they stand on hate crimes.

“This hate spreading across the country is very real,” Allam said.

She said that President Donald Trump’s speech at his rally in Greenville was hate speech. The crowd chanted “send her back” about U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar after Trump suggested she and other members of Congress leave the country.

Allam thinks hate crime legislation hasn’t passed because of politicians’ “refusal to admit that this hate exists. A lot of it is fueled by political leaders, and not admitting they that are part of the problem.”

Majeed said what Trump has said “certainly doesn’t help and is fuel to the fire.”

Rep. Nasif Majeed, a Charlotte Democrat, filed HB 312, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan

Where NC hate crimes bill stands

The petition for the hate crimes bill would need 61 signatures and had received 35 signatures as of Thursday morning. One of them was Rep. Brandon Lofton, a Mecklenburg County Democrat.

“I think there are certain issues important enough they deserve debate, and be brought to the floor to be considered,” Lofton told The News & Observer right after signing the petition on Thursday. He said that especially after the weekend shootings, “we need to do more as a body to prevent future loss of life.”

He said that while their prayers go out to the families of the victims, lawmakers have a responsibility to do more than that. Lofton said he liked the aspects of the bill that require training for law enforcement regarding hate crimes.

Majeed said he had some support from Republicans when he filed the bill, “but somehow it faltered.”

“In view of the times and what we’re seeing before our eyes, we have to do something,” Majeed said. “As leadership, we have to be responsible for taking the position that we’re not going to tolerate this and we need to increase the penalty associated with these kind of crimes.”

As of Thursday morning, Aug. 8, 2019, 35 House representatives had signed a discharge petition for HB 312, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, to be moved from committee to the House floor for debate. Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan

“I think that’s the least we can do,” he said.

The bill is in the House judiciary committee. The News & Observer’s attempts to reach Republican chairs of the committee by phone and email on Thursday were unsuccessful.

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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham for 13 years, and has received six North Carolina Press Association awards, including a 2018 award for investigative reporting.