East Carolina University’s GLBT Student Union gathered Tuesday night to listen to Greenville Police Department Chief Mark Holtzman’s plans to increase the severity of hate crime laws within the state.
“I feel as though as a police department, the better we are connected to every different segment of the community religious groups, special interest groups, civic group, the better we can serve and know what’s going on,” said Holtzman.
North Carolina’s current statute only includes “ethnic intimidation,” which is recognized as a simple misdemeanor in the state. As the law stands now, any crime that falls under this category could only lead to a maximum of a year in prison.
Holtzman drafted a bill proposing the charge be changed from a misdemeanor to a class H felony, which could mean up to 25 months in prison. He also asked the wording be changed from ethnic intimidation to a hate crime.
“We wanted to call it what it is,” said Holtzman.
Holtzman’s proposal was reviewed by Greenville’s City Council and was unanimously voted in support of. The bill was sent to the state and has been under discussion this week. Holtzman said within the next few weeks he should know if the bill received the support of the State House and the Senate.
“I’m really sticking my neck out as chief,” said Holtzman. “This is probably territory I’m not supposed to be in, but I don’t care; I don’t need a vote to do my job.”
Holtzman said the bill protects many minority groups who were excluded from the original law. Some of the traits mentioned in the draft include one’s political affiliation, marital status, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion and employment status.
John Cockerham, president of GLBTSU, said he hopes to continue to build the organization’s relationship with the Greenville Police Department, as well as the ECU Police Department.
“I’m just happy that they would take the time out of their day to speak to us,” said Cockerham. “Oftentimes we go to ECU PD and while that’s great, it’s still good to have a connection to the city.”
Cockerham said he is glad the new proposal includes so many different groups, and he fully supports the hate crime bill.
“It’s a good defense for minorities, as well as people who disagree with others and people who may live a different way than others would prefer them to,” he said.
Along with the bill, Holtzman is working on other ways to decrease the number of hate crimes in Greenville. He has delegated one officer to work as a liaison between the Greenville Police Department and the LGBT community.
Sergeant Cachelle Shean, who will be the mediator for this community, was also at the event Tuesday. Shean said she agreed to take on this role, because she feels like it is part of her job as an officer to use her authority to help others.
“If I can be just one small voice, one small segment,” said Shean. “People that might not be willing to come speak out, but they come to me and tell me and then I can take their concerns to the higher authority.”
Holtzman said the city has also been focusing on adding more lighting and cameras around The Grid, as well as other areas near Uptown Greenville including the parking deck.
He asked GLBTSU to come forward to the police department and report any activity leaving them feeling uncomfortable or unsafe. Holtzman said the key is to have this open relationship so when people have similar experiences, his department can put the pieces together easier.
“You need to let someone know,” said Holtzman. “Even if you may want to brush it off, it may really affect somebody else or it just might push that person to keep doing that.”
Holtzman invited the organization to help in the process of making this bill a law by writing him letters of support, where the club states what they agree or disagree with in regards to the bill. GLBTSU unanimously voted in favor of the bill following Tuesday’s meeting and plan to write a letter of support within the next week.