Gov. Cuomo Wants a New Hate Crime Law. Would Police Use It to Suppress Protests?

Scott Shackford, Reason, August 15, 2017

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he wants harsher criminal penalties for rioting, but his proposal could easily blow back on peaceful protesters.

Pointing to last weekend’s violence in Virginia, Cuomo is pushing to expand the state’s hate crime laws with what he’s calling the “Charlottesville provisions.” Under the new rules, according to the Auburn Citizen, rioting that targets a protected class would become a more severe felony than it is now, leading to a potential penalty of seven years in prison. Inciting such a riot would jump up from a misdemeanor to a felony, and could now get you up to four years in prison, based on New York State’s sentencing guidelines.

As is typical when a politician makes grandstanding announcements about fighting crime, Cuomo sees—or wants you to see—only some of the likely outcomes. He says these laws will protect marginalized minorities against bigots. He does not discuss the power dynamic that hate crime laws set up. Once you establish a list of protected classes, many different groups will try to get onto it.

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Large public protests often target government behavior, whether we’re talking the White House or City Hall. The Charlottesville protests started with white nationalists protesting the city’s decision to remove a Confederate monument, before it all went downhill. The potential for this law to be used to suppress mass public activism of other sorts is high.

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