Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington
Testimony on Bill 23-409,
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019,
and Bill 23-435,
Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019
Before the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety
October 23, 2019
Good morning, Chairperson Allen and committee members. I am GLAA President Bobbi Strang. Thank you for holding this hearing on hate crimes in the District of Columbia and the two panic defense prohibition bills, B23-409 and B23-435.
The District, like many jurisdictions across the United States, has seen a dramatic rise in hate crimes since the 2016 election. GLAA concedes that part of the increase in the District may be due to better reporting as MPD has stated, but the increase in hate crimes is such that improved reporting cannot account for all of it. Equally troubling is the lack of prosecution for hate crimes by the United States Attorney’s Office. We believe this lack of consequences sends a message that if a person hurts members of the LGBTQ community in the District, they will be allowed to get away with it.
The USAO has stated that they believe they cannot prosecute hate crimes in the District successfully due to vague jury instructions that leave jurors with the impression that a person cannot be found guilty of a hate crime unless their prejudice is the sole motive for the underlying offense. We are skeptical of this.
While we do recommend that the Council clarify the statute, we are not confident that this will resolve the lack of action by the USAO. The Attorney General of the United States has publicly indicated his support for dominionism and theocratic-based law, an ideology hostile to the LGBTQ community. He has also demonstrated a willingness to abuse the power of his office to achieve political ends, so we do not have confidence that the USAO in the District is allowed the authority needed to properly protect our community. Local control of ALL criminal prosecutions would help return confidence in the criminal justice system.
Moreover, while the District has progressive laws and policies, panic defenses have been used in our courts – most notably in the murders of Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista. Our existence does not constitute incitement and should not be grounds for a legal defense. The fact that this defense has been used in the District makes clear the need for the Tony Hunter and Bella Evangelista Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019. We ask that you affirm our right to exist by advancing this bill.