Posted by Jacob Britton on November 05, 2019 at 9:00 AM
On November 1, 2019, the Wyoming Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a public briefing on hate crimes in the state in Casper. AAI Policy Analyst Kai Wiggins provided written and oral testimony at the briefing, speaking in the final panel alongside Rev. Hannah Villnave of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cheyenne. Members of the committee received testimony from impacted community members, state and local activists, and policy experts. The first panel included testimony from Dennis Shepard, whose son, Matthew, was killed in 1998 outside of Laramie, Wyoming, in what is considered one of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes in U.S. history. In his testimony, Shepard noted that although the tragedy led to the passage of the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, Wyoming still does not have a hate crime statute.
Wiggins briefed the committee on the function of such legislation. His testimony, which can be read in full here, features an overview of the relevant federal, state, and tribal legal frameworks and historical hate crime data reported in the state under the federal Hate Crime Statistics Act. The testimony concludes with five recommendations: that the Wyoming state legislature should consider enacting (1) a hate crime statute, (2) hate crime reporting and data collection requirements, and (3) mandatory hate crime training for law enforcement; (4) that Wyoming’s state government should research and analyze the hate crime policies and procedures currently in effect among major law enforcement agencies in the state; and (5) that the federal government should provide additional assistance to Wyoming in its transition to the National Incident-Based Reporting System. The final recommendation could be implemented through the passage of bipartisan, bicameral legislation introduced in Congress as the Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer NO HATE Act (S. 2043 | H.R. 3545).
In his written testimony, which is available in full, Wiggins writes:
According to data collected under federal statute and published in the annual Hate Crime Statistics report, the incidence of hate crime is on the rise in the United States. Although these data represent the most authoritative source of information on the nature and extent of hate crime, issues stemming from underreporting and inaccurate reporting persist. These issues are likely reflected in Wyoming, where nearly three decades of hate crime reporting have produced limited amounts of data.
In addition to federal reform, an improved response to hate crime in Wyoming could include the enactment of criminal “hate crime statutes,” hate crime reporting and data collection provisions, and hate crime training for law enforcement. With respect to hate crime reporting and data collection, the transition to a more sophisticated reporting format and increased oversight of law enforcement policies and practices could promote a more accurate and accountable system.
Jacob Britton is a fall 2019 intern at the Arab American Institute.