Hate crimes on the rise in VA, new legislation aims to combat hate groups

Attorney General Herring held roundtable discussion in Roanoke Wednesday

ROANOKE – Hate crimes are on the rise in the commonwealth. Virginia State Police have reported a 64 percent increase since 2013.

Attorney General Mark Herring told 10 News every category of bias has seen an increase.
People of different colors, races, sexes, religious backgrounds and ethnicities all gathered to sit at one table to talk about common ground Wednesday for Herring’s sixth regional meeting to talk about hate crimes.

"One of the really damaging things about hate crimes is they are designed to strike fear in a whole group of people and are designed to push people into the shadows and make them feel that they are somehow not a part of our community," Herring said.

The meeting comes on the heels of nationwide controversy surrounding Patrick County EMT Alex McNabb and his racially charged podcast.

A heated argument came to a head at Monday night's Patrick County board meeting after McNabb and the board chairman erupted into a shouting match.

Herring commended Chairman Lock Boyce for how he responded after being told by the accused white supremacist to shut up.

It was the loudest outburst of what became a nearly five-minute screaming match between the two.

"Speak out and condemn it when it happens, just the way the chair of the Patrick County board of supervisors did, and I applaud him for calling it out for what it is. It is hateful speech, damaging, hurtful and absolutely deplorable," Herring said.

Many members Wednesday had their own stories to tell, like Charonjot Gill, of Roanoke, a member of the Sikh faith. He talked about how the public commonly mistook him for a Muslim because of his appearance and headpiece.

"You're walking in a mall, people start making comments to you. Especially people who like myself wear articles of faith like a turban, or have a free-flowing beard, they get targeted more often because of mistaken identity,” Gill said.

He also talked about solutions.

"Education plays a very important role in dealing with hate crime,” Gill said.

Rabbi Kathy Cohen talked about the security measures her Roanoke congregation has taken since the Pittsburgh shooting at a Jewish synagogue. She also said when her child was growing up, that received inappropriate comments about being Jewish.

"It is extraordinarily important that we seek legislative responses and community responses,” Cohen said.

She said she consistently must do parking lot sweeps at their synagogue now, and that funding for elevated security measures isn't available.

Combating the issue, Herring told 10 News about several pieces of legislation he's working on including updating the state definition of what a hate crime is and giving his office power to prosecute those cases.

Herring is working to create protections against hate crimes committed on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Other key bills focus on allowing police to intervene with white supremacist groups by giving law enforcement more tools to identify hate groups.

Another bill would give communities the authority to ban firearms in public spaces during events like the riots in Charlottesville. A final bill would aim to keep guns away from those convicted of hate crimes. This bill would close a loophole and ensure that anyone convicted of a hate crime is barred from possessing a gun.

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