A white teen who allegedly plotted to attack a historically black church in Georgia faces a charge of criminal attempt to commit murder, but she’s not charged with a hate crime because the state does not have such a law.
The 16-year-old, a high school student in Gainesville, had allegedly planned the attack on the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church for several weeks, police said. She researched black places of worship online and visited the church this month, but no one was there at the time.
“She is a racist,” Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish said, adding he wouldn’t make the statement without substantial evidence.
While police have not released much detail on the alleged plot, Bishop Reginald Jackson of the Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church told local media he hoped the teenager would be tried as an adult, and denounced the absence of hate crimes laws in Georgia.
“It ought to bother us in the state of Georgia, this young girl, this young woman cannot be charged with a hate crime,” he said. “She cannot be charged with a hate crime because Georgia does not have a hate crimes law.”
Georgia is one of four states, including Arkansas, Wyoming and South Carolina, that do not have hate crimes laws. But even without the laws, such states can report hate crimes to the FBI, the Justice Department said.
The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, made up of 65 state representatives and senate members, said Thursday it plans to push for a hate crime bill.
“Now more than ever we need to end the incivility of hatred and further advance the process of becoming ‘one nation, under God, indivisible,’” the GLBC said in a statement.
In South Carolina, white supremacist Dylann Roof slaughtered nine people at a black church in Charleston four years ago. He was charged with hate crimes in federal court, but not in state court because South Carolina does not have a hate crimes law on the state level.
More recently, the son of a sheriff’s deputy was accused of burning three black churches in rural Louisiana. Holden Matthews has been charged with hate crimes under a state statute, and has pleaded not guilty to three hate crime counts and arson of a religious building.
“At least 46 states and the District of Columbia have statutes with penalties for bias-motivated crimes,” the Justice Department said on its website. It said most states have hate crime statutes enforced by state and local authorities, and they vary widely across jurisdictions.
The Justice Department enforces federal hate crimes laws when a crime occurs on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability. It began prosecuting federal hate crimes cases after the Civil Rights Act of 1968.