A proposed ordinance aims to offer unsheltered Louisvillians some recourse against hate crimes. It would add housing status to a list of protected classes and give victims the opportunity to take civil action against abusers.
The Louisville Metro Council is expected to consider the ordinance Thursday.
District 4 Council Member Jecorey Arthur, a Democrat, proposed the measure. He said he wrote it with unsheltered residents in mind, and in response to verbal, physical and systemic abuses they face.
“If, in addition to that crime itself, there is some evidence of hatred, whether you sent us some nasty emails. Or you are actually spewing hate speech while that crime is being committed then your penalty or your punishment will be enhanced,” Arthur said.
Some city officials say the law would be toothless in criminal court. But Sam Marcosson, a law professor at the University of Louisville, said while it’s limited in scope, it could be useful. He also said it sends an important message.
“The judge can say, within the range that’s permissible for that crime, in terms of the sentence, I’m going to go with the higher end of that range,” Marcosson said. “Just as crimes, violence that targets someone because of their race are deeply harmful, that is just as true of someone targeted because they happen to be homeless.”
The measure would also allow law enforcement to track hate crimes against unsheltered residents and raise awareness about the extent of the problem.
Marcosson said this may encourage more unsheltered residents to report hate crimes committed against them, but added police need to earn community trust for change to happen.
“The biggest barrier for communities of color and communities who tend to be the subject of hate crimes being willing to report not only hate crimes, but any crimes is that they don’t trust the police,” Marcosson said. “Police are seen as untrustworthy, hostile, and the perpetrators of violence rather than the protectors of their communities.”
He said nothing will change unless victims feel they can trust police.
The ordinance will be up for a vote before the full Metro Council during its regular meeting on Thursday at 6 p.m.