By Kevin Deutsch
A coalition of over 300 government officials and activists are calling for reforms to Florida’s hate crime law, demanding legislators make changes to protect people targeted for their gender, gender identity, or physical disability.
Amid a nationwide rise in hate crimes, members of the Florida Hate Crimes Coalition gathered in Tallahassee Tuesday to lobby for passage of legislation filed by Florida state Sen. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, and Florida state Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, (SB 308 and HB 111), which would expand protections in the state’s 30-year-old hate crime law to include those now-unprotected groups.
In addition to gender and disability protections, the reforms would cover “association with” hate crimes, such as when a person is victimized for being at a bar or restaurant with Black or Hispanic friends.
The effort to expand hate crime protections is being spearheaded by the Anti-Defamation League in Florida, which formed and leads the Florida Hate Crimes Coalition, the largest group in the state pushing for hate crime protection reform.
Among the coalition’s members are Coral Springs Commissioner Joy Carter, Parkland Commissioner Ken Cutler, and Broward County Vice Mayor Michael Udine.
“The objective should be that we help each other, not hurt each other,” said Carter. “I believe we are all God’s children.”
The advocacy for reform comes amid an alarming increase in hate crimes across the nation.
According to the most recent FBI data, hate crimes based on gender, gender identity, and disability have increased by 509% since 2011, from 64 in 2011 to 390 in 2020.
Overall, 2020 saw a six percent increase in reported hate crimes, the highest total in twelve years, according to FBI data.
“People with disabilities are at least 2.5 times more likely to experience violence than their non-disabled peers, and hate crimes against people with disabilities are frequently minimized and referred to as pranks or bullying because of the societal view that their lives aren’t as valuable,” said Olivia Babis, Senior Public Policy Analyst for the group Disability Rights Florida, and a member of the coalition. “In order to protect all Floridians with disabilities from crimes evidencing prejudice, the Florida Legislature needs to expand the definition of disability in current hate crime laws to be as broad as intended by the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
In 1981, the ADL crafted the first model hate crime legislation in America. Forty-six states plus the District of Columbia now have laws based on or similar to the organization’s model.
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- Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime journalist and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on staff at The Miami Herald, New York Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post.
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