“We are here to join the partnership for working together toward an inclusive community,” Mayor Edna Jackson said at Savannah’s first-ever United Savannah Tolerance Summit held in the Savannah Civic Center Ballroom Thursday.
Jackson was one of the many concerned citizens from all walks of life who attended the summit aimed at educating the public on hate crimes, specifically on what constitutes a hate crime and how the Savannah community can prevent them.
The two-part summit was a culmination of meetings between the community leaders, the Savannah- Chatham Police Department and the U.S. Department of Justice, stemming from a 2010 incident where a gay citizen was punched in the head by two Marines.
A hate crime occurs when there is a threat of force, motivation of bias, such as bias based on race or sexual preference, and it must interfere with a person’s federal protected activities, such as the right to attend school or vote, according to Lawrence Greene, senior supervisory agent.
Greene emphasized there is a difference between a bias incident and hate crimes. A bias incident is similar to when a racist group holds an event dennouncing another race; a hate crime is a crime motivated by hostility towards a person because they belong to a specific group.
The audience asked what type of sensitivity training do officers have in dealing with hate crimes?
“They have 14 weeks in the regional academy and then in the Savannah academy learning diversity and how to interact with the public,” said Star Corporal Tracy Walden with the Savannah- Chatham Metropolitan Police Department.
“We are constantly training officers; we have to go through at least 20 hours of training to be certified.”
Whitney Anderson, a transgendered woman living in Savannah said she has been refused treatment by doctors and housing based on her status as a transgendered woman. Anderson explained that why other groups are protected under the hate crime statutes due to race, religion and other traits, there is still no protection for transgendered people under federal or state laws.
“What can be done to make discriminating against transgendered people illegal?” Anderson asked.
Edward Tarver, United States attorney, said that back when Georgia implemented its hate crime laws, transgendered people were not on the state’s radar. However, Tarver did point out steps the country is making to prevent hate crimes against the transgendered community, such as the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The law was passed by Congress on Oct. 22, 2009 and signed into law by President Obama on Oct. 28, 2009. The law removes the condition that the victim must be participating in a federally protected activity, requires the Federal Bureau of Investigation to keep better statistics on hate crimes, gives the federal government discretion to pursue hate crimes local government does not and provides $5 million in funding to help prosecute and investigate hate crimes.
Tarver encouraged Anderson to look for opportunities at various levels of government to make a difference.
“Talk to local, state, and national leaders to bring about change,” Tarver said.