Sunday, September 5, 2004

Tougher penalties discussed


Cross-burning brings call
for local hate-crime laws

By Cindy Schroeder
Enquirer staff writer

COVINGTON - Members of the Covington Human Rights Commission are calling for everything from a local hate-crime ordinance to a tougher Kentucky hate-crime law after a cross-burning in a Boone County family's yard this summer.

"I think a local hate-crimes ordinance would send the message that we in Covington are concerned about this kind of behavior, and we won't tolerate it in our community,'' said the Rev. Don Smith, chairman of the Covington Human Rights Commission.

In the Greater Cincinnati region, Cincinnati has a hate-crime law. Kentucky human rights advocates were not aware of any Kentucky cities with hate-crime ordinances. However, Elizabethtown in western Kentucky has an anti-mask ordinance that requires Klan members and other groups to show their faces when they march or demonstrate in public.

Several members of the Covington Human Rights Commission also have called for Kentucky to adopt a tougher hate-crime law after Boone County's top prosecutor recently complained "there is no meat in Kentucky's hate-crimes law.'' Both options will be discussed at the commission's meeting Tuesday.

Covington reported six hate crimes to the FBI in 2002, the most recent year for which statistics were available.

While various Northern Kentucky communities have reported incidents of racial, sexual, ethnic or religious intimidation in recent years, the cross-burning in Boone County is what inspired the Covington Human Rights Commission to act now, Smith said.

Two Northern Kentucky men pleaded guilty Thursday to burning a cross in a Boone County family's back yard on July 2 and breaking the windows of their car the next day.

The family moved from Boone County within days of the harassment.

The men would have faced only misdemeanor charges of criminal trespassing, criminal mischief, menacing or terroristic threatening in state court, which carries a maximum sentence of a year in jail.

That's one of the main reasons the case was prosecuted in federal court, said Boone County Commonwealth's Attorney Linda Tally Smith.

Matthew Scudder, 18, of Florence, and Jimmy D. Foster, 19, of Independence, each face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when they are sentenced Dec. 16.

State Rep. Paul Marcotte, a Republican from Union, has said he wants to work with Linda Tally Smith to develop state legislation to enable local authorities to prosecute hate crimes, rather than send them to federal court, where the penalties are more severe.

Marcotte has already discussed his proposal with members of the House judiciary committee. Because next year's legislative session is a short one, time is of the essence, he said.

"I hope to be able to get some more information within the next month so that if we decide to file a bill, we would be able to pre-file it before the end of the year,'' Marcotte said.

While state or federal legislation may be more effective, adoption of a local hate-crime law would be a "symbolic gesture,'' that shows Covington won't tolerate bias-motivated crimes, said Covington Human Rights Commission member Charles King.

John C.K. Fisher, Northern Kentucky field supervisor for the Commission on Human Rights, said proposals such as King's send the message "that Covington wants to be a progressive community where everyone is welcome and people's rights are protected.''

Jerome Bowles, president of the Northern Kentucky chapter of the NAACP, agreed.

"I think Covington should set a standard for the rest of the area," he said.

E-mail cschroeder@enquirer.com




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