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ADL Hosts Discussion on Passage of Georgia Hate Crime Law

[additional-authors]
July 14, 2020
Screenshot from Zoom.

In a July 10 Zoom webinar, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) discussed how Georgia was able to pass and have signed into law its recent hate crimes bill.

Speaking at the event were former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat; Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Maya Prabhu; and Coca-Cola Director of Government Relations Gene Rackley. (The soft drink company is headquartered in Atlanta.)

The bill passed the state legislature on June 23 with overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed into law on June 26. The law, which went into effect on July 1, imposes harsher penalties for crimes targeting individuals based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or physical and mental disabilities. The harsher penalties include an additional six to12 months in prison for misdemeanors and a minimum of two-years in prison for felonies.

“Hate crimes have a double impact, as their effects reverberate well beyond individuals and can leave entire communities feeling fearful, powerless and alienated,” Allison Padilla-Goodman, vice president of the ADL’s Southern Division, said.

Barnes, who served as Georgia’s governor from 1999-2003, said that he initially signed a hate crimes bill into law in 2000, but in 2004 the Georgia Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional, arguing the law was too vague. Barnes said he believed that the ensuing grueling political fight as well as his efforts to revise the Confederate emblem on the state flag in 2001 left the populace fatigued over the issue of a hate crimes law.

“Hate crimes have a double impact, as their effects reverberate well beyond individuals and can leave entire communities feeling fearful, powerless and alienated.” — Allison Padilla-Goodman

“The fight on hate crimes was gut-wrenching,” he said. “And I think everybody said, ‘Listen, Barnes is gone, let’s take a rest awhile.’ ”

Prabhu said that the death of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man who was shot and killed while jogging by two white men on Feb. 23 in Georgia, made the legislature realize the need for a hate crimes bill.

“I think that struck a chord with people in the legislature who previously didn’t feel as though there was a need for extra protections for certain classes for hate crimes,” she said. She added that the COVID-19 pandemic was also played a role in fast-tracking the bill.

“I think that this pandemic has slowed everyone down to the point where they can actually process these visuals that they were seeing of the deaths of oftentimes Black men … they couldn’t turn away,” Prabhu said.

“I was amazed by the bipartisan support that came together and quite frankly it made me proud to be a Georgian,” Barnes said of the passage of the bill.

He also applauded Coca-Cola’s support for the bill, stating, “You have to have good business support [for] controversial issues if you want to make sure that it gets done.”

Rackley added that Coca-Cola directly lobbied Georgia lawmakers, which included a letter to the state legislatures that more than 60 business leaders signed, including the leaders of the Atlanta Braves baseball team, Comcast communications company and Delta Airlines.

“The hate crimes bill was important to Georgia,” Rackley said. “It’s important to bring our community together and we felt like we wanted to lead in that regard.”

Added Barnes, “The message that [the bill] sends is, ‘Listen. We are leaders in this community and we are willing to assume political capital to what’s right, and to say that we’re not going to allow hate to rule us.’”

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