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North Carolina Hate Crime Laws Let Judges Increase Penalties

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RALEIGH — If the California shooting at a Jewish community center is indeed a crime of hate, it will be added to a long list of crimes committed recently because of someone's race, religion or sexual preference.

The federal government has put measures in place to prosecute people who commit hate crimes, and North Carolina also has laws to further penalize these criminals.

Words can hurt as hard as a fist, but when someone takes it upon themselves to use those words as ammo for hatred in the Triangle, authorities say the penalty is decisive and swift.

A couple was murdered in Fayetteville, their only offense, they were black. A Fort Bragg soldier, James Burmeister, was convicted of the racially motivated crime.

In North Carolina, the hate crime statute allows judges to increase the penalties for verbal racial attacks during the commission of a crime, assault, murder and vandalism, if it is determined the crime was motivated by racial, religious, or sexual orientation bias.

"Some of the most direct evidence of hate crimes are cross burnings," says Deputy Attorney General Wanda Bryant, who says law enforcement officers are the first line of defense for prosecuting hate crimes.

"It's up to investigators to look at the scene and make a determination -- a subjective determination -- as to whether or not a hate crime has been committed," she said.

Jeremy Raw, a Durham civil rights activists, says high profile alleged hate crimes like the shooting at a Jewish community center in Los Angeles shines the media light on the problem.

Raw also says the public tends to lose sight of daily hate crimes that are perpetrated in the community.

"What happens on a regular daily basis is that there are assaults, there are harassments, there are vandalisms that take place," he said. "These are things that are ongoing effects, not just in North Carolina -- North Carolina is not exceptional in this regard -- it happens everywhere in this country."

In North Carolina, the statute that deals with hate crimes is referred to as Ethnic Intimidation. It is a misdemeanor punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine, but a judge can raise the penalty to a felony.

The Attorney General's office has also launched a number of training programs dealing with hate crimes for law enforcement officers around the state.


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