Commentary: Utah Needs to Reclaim Position as a Safe Haven Against Hate Crime

Last year in Draper, 57-year-old Mark Porter was arrested after shouting racial slurs at a 7-year-old boy and then zapping the boy’s father in the neck with a million-volt stun cane. Charged with third-degree aggravated assault, Porter faced no more than five years in prison.

This September, the state charge against Porter was dismissed to make way for a federal hate-crime charge. Porter now faces a possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

Why must the federal government step in to prosecute Utah’s hate crimes, which are defined as being motivated by bias and meant to intimidate or terrorize both the victims and their entire community?

“Utah’s current hate crimes statute is woefully defective. It doesn’t protect anyone,” said Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams. The Utah statute applies only to misdemeanors and does not name protected groups. In fact, there has not been a single hate-crime conviction in Utah in the 25 years since it was enacted.

Resolutions calling for stronger hate-crimes legislation in Utah have been passed by Moab City Council, West Jordan City, South Salt Lake City and Beaver County.

“We as a state have hate crime legislation on the books but for years we’ve been hearing that it’s literally unenforceable,” said Moab City Council Member Rani Derasary. “Other communities have been … saying that they would like the state to do more to have legislation that is defensible and among those are the [Utah] Association of Prosecutors, the Utah Chiefs of Police Association and the Utah Sheriff’s Association.”

This op-ed by Alliance for a Better Utah intern Maxton Cline originally appeared as a commentary in the Salt Lake Tribune here.

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