RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — As lawmakers prepare to head to Richmond for the legislative session, Attorney General Mark Herring is rallying support for a set of bills to protect Virginians against hate crimes.
Herring has proposed similar bills in the past, but they have been bottled up by the Republican-controlled legislature.
“We’ve seen an alarming rise [in] hate crimes in Virginia and across the county in the last few years,” Herring said.
Herring says the numbers back that up. Hate crimes have risen 31 percent in the state since 2012. Last year alone, there were 161 hate crimes reported.
“You know, it is really heartbreaking to talk to Virginians who have felt fear over the last couple years because of how they worship, or what they look like, or what their sexual orientation is,” Herring said.
“It’s really important we not only send a message that this kind of hate will not be tolerated in Virginia, but we couple that with action,” he said.
That action would give the attorney general more power to prosecute hate crimes throughout the commonwealth. It would also call for stronger penalties for those who are found guilty.
“We are a commonwealth that is open and welcoming to everyone, and we want to make sure the kind of hate and rhetoric does not take root in any community in Virginia,” Herring said.
He was shocked by what he heard in Hampton Roads.
“People who lived in the Hampton Roads region for decades, who have always felt comfortable there, are now feeling like they have to look over their shoulder,” Herring said. “They can be the victim of a crime just, because their national origin or something like that. That should have no place in our commonwealth.”
Herring also hopes these bills will close a loophole which not allow anyone convicted of a hate crime to have a gun.