The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a precipitous rise in hate crimes and criminal activity by extremist groups. The Connecticut General Assembly has a duty to take both heed and action.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported in their 2015 Tracking Hate report that only two groups motivated by bias and bigotry were operating within the state of Connecticut. By 2020, the SPLC listed six different hate groups that were tracked by law enforcement in Connecticut. The need for legislative action has never been greater. Luckily, a bill before the state Senate promises to do just that.
SB 122 “An Act Establishing A Unit Within The Division Of State Police To Investigate Hate Crimes And Criminal Acts Committed By Extremist Groups” would form a Hate Crimes and Extremist Group Investigative Unit and a state-wide investigative task force dedicated to preventing and detecting any crime motivated by bigotry towards minority communities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has largely exacerbated the divisions that already exist between racial, ethnic, religious, and gender groups in this country. Some of these divisions have worsened to the extent that they prompt violent action by an individual or group of individuals towards neighbors of minority status.
According to the Stop AAPI Hate center, the number of hate incidents reported to the organization increased significantly from 3,795 to 6,603 during March 2021. This upward trend in hate crimes committed against the AAPI community is not recent; the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism confirms that in 2020, Anti-Asian hate crimes surged by 145%.
One of the most significant duties of a government is to assure the protection of its governed citizens. S.B. 122, through “establish[ing] a unit within the State Police to investigate hate crimes and criminal acts committed by extremist groups,” will hold Connecticut accountable to this responsibility.
Sen. Martin M. Looney of New Haven makes a convincing case for the bill in writing “It is evident that a task force to investigate these trends should be established…our state police have already created task forces to pursue crimes including narcotics sales, home invasions, motor vehicle fraud, urban violence, automotive theft, and illegal firearms…a task force to investigate hate crimes and violence based on ideology is a necessity to preserve the safety and peace of mind of the people of Connecticut.”
According to the Connecticut 2017 Bias Crime Report, in 66 of the 110 hate crime incidents reported, no information exists to identify the offender. This presents a tremendous challenge for prosecutors and all too often lets perpetrators of hate crimes walk free. It inhibits the investigation of activities by extremist groups as well.
As a person of minority status, I can attest to the vicious effects of hate crimes and their palpable, lasting effect both emotionally and physically for their victims, occasionally members of my family and community. More than just contributing to a sense of ostracization, violent profiling can lead to depression and suicidal thoughts.
That is why Connecticut must crackdown on hate crimes and extremist organizations. According to the FBI, in 2019 alone, there were more than 50 hate crime incidents caused by prejudice towards an individual’s race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and gender in Connecticut. That figure is outrageous and unacceptable.
The Senate bill had a public hearing on March 9, with 17 different pieces of testimony supporting its passing. It was issued a joint favorable substitute on March 18, 2021, and is currently calendared as the 198th bill on the calendar. But this number does not reflect the increasing urgency with which this bill needs to be passed.
The Connecticut General Assembly must ensure the protection of minority communities across the state. The passing of this bill will ensure peace of mind to minority groups statewide: the AAPI community, the BIPOC community, and other groups that are socially marginalized. S.B. 122 deserves our full attention and an opportunity to be heard on the chamber floor.
William Garcia is a student at Yale University.