Mississippi Lawmakers Kill Hate Crimes Legislation

by Nick Morrow

This crucial update to Mississippi’s hate crimes law would simply bring it up to the federal standard.

Today, HRC responded to a disappointing decision by Mississippi Senate and House leadership -- including Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, his appointed committee chairs and leaders in the House of Representatives -- who refused to bring up for a vote commonsense bills that would update Mississippi’s hate crimes law to include sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. Notably, SB 2163 passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary A Committee yesterday before being scuttled in the Corrections Committee. A twin bill, HB 1494, similarly died on the House side in the House Judiciary B Committee. This crucial update to Mississippi’s hate crimes law would simply bring it up to the federal standard.

“We’re very disappointed that our lawmakers-- including Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and other leaders in both chambers of the legislature -- have refused to vote on these crucial bills,” said Rob Hill, HRC Mississippi state director. “For the second year in a row, lawmakers have decided to play politics with LGBTQ people’s lives and deny Mississippians the opportunity to have a meaningful conversation about these proposed updates to our hate crimes laws. Support for these bills is widespread, bipartisan and non-controversial. As LGBTQ people face a disproportinately high risk of hate crimes throughout the South and in Mississippi, we have to ask legislators: what are you waiting for?”

This week, Mason-Dixon Polling and Strategy released polling that shows broad, bipartisan support for this legislation.

The polling found that in every part of the state, support outweighed opposition. The levels of support in each area are as follows:

  • 69 percent the Gulf Coast
  • 66 percent in the Jackson Metro area
  • 61 percent in the Delta
  • 54 percent in Southern Mississippi
  • 52 percent in Eastern Mississippi
  • 49 percent in Northern Mississippi

Among party lines, support also outweighed opposition.

  • 72 percent of Democrats supported, with 16 percent opposed
  • 46 percent of Republicans supported, with 40 percent opposed
  • 64 percent of Independents supported, with 27 percent opposed

For more detailed results, click here.

Mississippi, like most states in the South, does not have statewide hate crimes laws that are inclusive of sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. This makes it more difficult for law enforcement to adequately prosecute perpetrators of bias-motivated crimes and deliver justice to victims and their families. Within the past few years, Mississippi has faced a tragic, disproportionate number of anti-transgender crimes, including the highly-publicized murders of Mercedes Williamson, Mesha Caldwell and Dee Whigham. Out of those three murders, only Mercedes Williamson’s was prosecuted under the federal hate crime statute, because the the perpetrator crossed state lines, making it a federal crime.

In 2014, HRC launched Project One America, an initiative geared towards advancing social, institutional and legal equality in Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. HRC Mississippi continues to work to advance equality for LGBTQ Mississippians who have no state level protections in housing, workplace, or public accommodations. Through HRC Mississippi, we are working toward a future of fairness every day -- changing hearts, minds and laws toward achieving full equality.