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Logan County Torture Case – Are Hate Crime Laws Needed?

October 17, 2007

Charleston, WV – The recent, brutal attacks on Megan Williams show that violence motivated by race and gender is a real threat, according to organizers of a forum on hate crimes at West Virginia University. Tonight, legal scholars, law students, and an assistant Attorney General will discuss whether federal and state hate crime charges should be filed against those accused of the attack.

Opponents of hate crime laws say the legal system should be "color-blind." WVU law professor Judith Scully says that would work in an ideal "color-blind society," but real-world incidents mean hate crime laws are needed.

"We're just not there yet. Until we are at that point, I think it will be necessary to really confront the realities of racism, and to embrace laws such as hate crime laws to help us get to the point where we do actually live in a 'color-blind' society."

Scully cites another example: a rise in the use of symbols of racial hatred, including the hanging of nooses in recent incidents around the nation, which sends a chilling message to people of color.

"That message is clear. 'We don't want you here, we are attempting to intimidate you, we are threatening you,' by the presence of a noose."

WVU law student Igor Voloshen, with the Coalition to End Race and Gender Violence, is an organizer of tonight's event. He says the forum is part of an effort to confront issues of race and violence against women.

"We want to send a clear message that we in West Virginia will not accept race and gender violence. This is not something that is acceptable, it is despicable, a horrific crime."

In the Williams case, federal prosecutors have declined to pursue hate crime charges. Local authorities have not yet declared whether they'll do the same.

Rob Ferrett/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WV