Two Wyoming groups have started a petition urging lawmakers to pass a hate crimes bill in the state.
Hate crime laws impose tougher penalties on criminals who target their victims because of things like the victim's race or religion. Wyoming is one of just five states that does not have one.
The Wind River Native Advocacy Center and Wyoming Association of Churches are gathering signatures. They say their efforts are in response to the July shooting of two Northern Arapaho men by a white Riverton parks employee at a local detox center. One man was killed in that attack.
Cherokee Brown is with the Wind River Native Advocacy Center says Wyoming needs to step up to address a clear problem for Native Americans in Wyoming.
“The racism is still there,” says Brown. “The shooting that happened in Riverton, I think, is a very clear example of that. And, being on the Wind River Reservation, our problems are the state of Wyoming’s problems.”
Following the shooting, Governor Matt Mead said that he did not think Wyoming needed a hate crimes law.
“One criticism of hate crime laws is, ‘Well, it’s already a crime to injure somebody or vandalize property or whatever. Why do you need a separate crime for hate crime?’ says Chesie Lee with Wyoming Association of Churches. “It’s because it does affect a whole class of people, it’s not just the direct victim.”
People can sign on to the petition asking lawmakers to pass a state hate crimes bill at the Wind River Native Advocacy Center’s website.