Certainly, there never is any time at all for what Carlo Alazo, a 22-year-old from Tampa, Florida, is accused of doing.
It’s doubtful Alazo was even aware the Utah Legislature was in session, or that members of a Senate committee were about to consider a strongly worded hate crimes bill that would enhance penalties for targeting certain groups. But for anyone looking for an illustration as to why such a law is needed, well … the timing spoke volumes.
So did Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill’s decision not to charge Alazo with a hate crime because, “We don’t have a hate crimes statute in Utah that is usable by prosecutors.”
Gill is no stranger to the subject. He testified at the Senate committee that, as a man of Indian descent, he, too, has been the victim of hate. To illustrate, he told of how, shortly after 9/11, he was leaving the federal courthouse downtown, dressed in a suit, when three men in a truck turned the corner and began yelling ethnic obscenities at him, threatening to kill his family.
For accuracy’s sake, that kind of thing likely wouldn’t result in any penalties, even under the proposed new law. The bill specifically protects the First Amendment right to free speech.
But speech often precedes action. “I know what I felt in that moment,” Gill said. “I felt fear for my family.” He also felt fear for other people from India. “That fear is genuine.”
It’s the kind of thing the Anti-Defamation League’s website says “may effectively intimidate other members of the victim's community, leaving them feeling isolated, vulnerable, and unprotected by the law.”
The opponents of hate crimes legislation tend to raise two points. The first is that such bills try to punish people for their thoughts.
That’s a notion that misconstrues the justice system. A prosecutor would have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that someone chose a victim because of one of that person’s personal attributes. This becomes relatively easy when the criminal makes a statement before striking, has a website, social media page or computer database with a list of victims belonging to a certain group or has left some other admissible evidence that shows intent.
It becomes much less likely without such evidence.
The second point they raise, however, is more credible. It is that no list of such protected personal attributes is complete.
The bill, SB103, has a long list — 17 items — ranging from sexual orientation to service in the armed forces. People at the Senate committee hearing raised some other possible targets not on the list, such as people who are short or victims targeted for their political affiliation.
But are these apparent omissions reasons to defeat the bill? Couldn’t a future Legislature amend the law as other targets become apparent?
This isn’t Utah’s first attempt at this issue. The current law, passed in 2006, was a much-heralded compromise effort that created an aggravating factor for a crime based on public harm. At the time, it was seen as a big step up from a 1992 version seen as unenforceable. Now, prosecutors are describing the ‘06 law as unenforceable.
Sen. Lyle Hilliard, R-Logan, a veteran of many such legislative battles, told the committee, “I wish, oh how I wish, that passing this law would solve the problem. It won’t.” But then he said he still intended to vote for the bill because it “gives a bad message if we don’t pass it.”
Solving the problem — described simply as hatred — is a tall order, indeed. Adequately punishing it, as SB103 would do, should not be.
The committee approved the bill unanimously, sending it to the Senate floor, where it awaits further debate.
What won’t get further debate, apparently, are the charges filed against Alazo — one class A misdemeanor count of threatening to use a dangerous weapon during a fight and two class B misdemeanor counts of assault.