A few days ago, and just a few days removed from Martin Luther King's birthday, a group of African American students at Western Kentucky University woke up to a note on their door containing a racial epithet and the sight of feces smeared on their apartment door and windows.
The incident was correctly labelled a hate crime, and was condemned by both the local chapter of the NAACP and Bowling Green Mayor Bruce Wilkerson.
"This act clearly shows the small-minded nature of the individual involved and does not represent our City as a whole," Wilkerson said. "The only hatred accepted by the people of Bowling Green is the hatred of racist acts such as these."
While the act may not have represented the entire city of Bowling Green or every citizen of Kentucky, the Southern Poverty Law Center's most recent study on hate groups found twenty-three organizations operating inside the Commonwealth, ranking them 14th in the nation. This includes four affiliates with the Ku Klux Klan, four neo-Confederate groups, three racist skinhead organizations, and three chapters of the white nationalist Traditionalist Worker's Party.
In Kentucky, anyone convicted of a felony-level hate crime is barred from owning a gun, but State Rep. Attica Scott is seeking to extend that ban to perpetrators of hate-crime misdemeanors with the filing of HB 209.
“With House Bill 209, Kentucky joins three other states in the southeast that have a tarnished past and present as it relates to hate crimes against people because of their nation of origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation,” said Representative Scott in a statement. “In Louisville, the Police Foundation recently acknowledged that hate crimes are an issue.”
Exempting the sort of property damage the students at WKU experienced and even incidents of assault from current law makes little sense, and it simply stands to reason that the perpetrators of hate should be treated as a threat to the community. Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee already have similar laws on the books, and we hope Kentucky will soon join them. Supplying people convicted of hate-related crimes with weapons is irresponsible, and we are urging support for this important legislation.