OLYMPIA — A new law signed today by Gov. Jay Inslee will ensure hate crimes can be more effectively prosecuted and courts can require offenders to complete rehabilitative programs.
“Hate crimes are horrific acts of violence that do more than affect individual victims — they make whole communities feel unwelcome,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond), chair of the Senate Law & Justice Committee and bill sponsor. “These crimes are corrosive to our society, and we need to have the proper tools available to protect survivors and ensure that courts can effectively supervise offenders in completing rehabilitative programs when those are needed.”
SB 5623 replaces the “physical injury” element of the definition of a hate crime with “assault.” Currently a physical injury to the victim is required for prosecutors to charge a hate crime, but assaults meant to intimidate and demean — like spitting on someone — will now be grounds for prosecution as a hate crime.
This bill will also classify a hate crime as a crime against a person, which accurately reflects the nature of the underlying criminal conduct. A crime against a person comes with 12 months of community custody, during which the state Department of Corrections can supervise offenders, emphasizing alternatives to incarceration including community service, mental health treatment and substance use disorder treatment. Without this recategorization, there is no way for a prosecutor to ensure offenders complete one of these alternatives.
An amendment offered by Dhingra in the Senate makes a further change to the text of the underlying statute by replacing the word “swastika” with the more precise “Nazi emblem, symbol, or Hakenkreuz.” The swastika, Sanskrit for “that which makes all well,” has been a sacred, auspicious symbol to many faith communities — Hindus, Buddhists and Jains — for more than 4,000 years.
“The answer to prejudice and hate lies in education,” Dhingra said. “As an Indian American, the swastika is something that I have always felt conflicted about. Diwali, a celebration of light over darkness, or good over evil, often brings Hindu practitioners to post the swastika on their windows and doorways as a symbol of good fortune and peace. This has led to hate crimes in my community due to a lack of knowledge and tolerance of cultural identity.
“This small change in the text of the bill is a critical step in correcting the abuse of a centuries-old sacred symbol.”
The bill goes into effect July 23.