Black lawmakers in Georgia said Thursday that they will push for a state hate crimes law after a white 16-year-old girl was accused of plotting to attack black churchgoers.
In a statement, the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus said it will push for a state hate crimes law “that protects the civil rights of all and further penalizes those who commit hate crimes.”
“We will not allow such actions to define us, but rather push us to do better and be better,” the caucus representing more than 60 Georgia state lawmakers said.
Georgia is one of only four states without a hate crimes law, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The others are South Carolina, Arkansas and Wyoming.
At the federal level, the Department of Justice prosecutes laws covering hate crimes committed on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability.
But the Georgia teenager is being prosecuted under state law, outside the federal system. She has been charged with criminal attempt to commit murder.
Gainesville police said the teen had collected several kitchen knives and scouted out the predominantly black Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The plot came to light last week, when Gainesville High School students told administrators the girl had a notebook with detailed plans to ambush churchgoers as they worshipped.
States have been passing hate crimes laws since the 1980s, though civil rights advocates say some of those laws are not comprehensive enough.
In 2004, the Georgia Supreme Court struck down the state’s hate crimes law, saying it was “unconstitutionally vague” and so broad that it would apply even to a rabid sports fan picking on somebody wearing a rival team’s cap. Since that court ruling, multiple efforts in Georgia to pass new hate crimes laws have stalled in the General Assembly.