When will Wyoming truly become 'The Equality State?'
Wyoming Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Twenty-two years after the murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, the issue of hate crimes remains a critical issue.
In July, the Wyoming Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a report examining hate crimes in Wyoming, long-known as "The Equality State."
The Wyoming Advisory Committee’s report findings and recommendations are based on testimony received during public meetings in August and November of 2019.
Academics, advocacy organizations, policy analysts, and individuals — impacted by bias-motivated incidents and/or hate crimes — provided testimony discussing the sufficiency of current equal protection laws in Wyoming, estimates of the prevalence of alleged hate crime, the prevalence of hate groups in the state, and challenges or barriers that prevent law enforcement from addressing alleged hate crimes.
Among the several findings, the Wyoming Advisory Committee highlighted the need for accurate and complete data collection on hate crimes impacting protected classes in order to effectively address these issues.
The committee learned that because data is reported voluntarily by local law enforcement, there is a lack of information in determining the prevalence of these crimes against protected groups.
Without this information, it is reasonable to assume crimes are underreported and that hate crimes are being classified as other crimes such as assault or suspicious behavior – crimes that do not acknowledge the motivation of the perpetrator.
This underreporting is also concerning especially since speakers shared that Wyoming’s American Indian community experienced bias-motivated incidents that have not been officially classified or charged as hate crimes.
For instance, on September 21, 2019, an American Indian member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe was shot and killed outside a Walmart by a police officer in Riverton, Wyoming — a border-town that sits adjacent to the Wind River Indian Reservation.
After the protracted public discourse — which included multiple conflicts and controversies in the local news media and elsewhere between the Fremont County Attorney, the Fremont County Coroner and elected officials — several elements of the investigation into the police officer involved fatality of a tribal member. These fatalities remain unresolved.
These crimes have gone largely unnoticed due to the long history of prejudice and discrimination toward American Indians; accounts of law enforcement not taking the American Indian community’s complaints seriously; fear of retaliation by the alleged perpetrator if the individual reports the crime; and tribal, state, and federal agencies’ lack of clarity as to what constitutes as a hate crime.
The Wyoming Advisory Committee believes that no one entity can address the issues related to the reporting and prosecution of hate crimes, but it does start with calling on the Wyoming legislature to pass a hate crime law that prohibits a broad range of bias-motivated criminal conduct and offers inclusive protections for victims.
Hate crime laws are essential tools for countering bias-motivated harm and mitigating its impact and should be taken seriously.
It is our hope that hate will have truly have no place in Wyoming and that the state is recognized as such.
The full report can be found here: https://www.usccr.gov/files/2020-07-23-WY-SAC-Hate-Crimes-Report.pdf
The Wyoming Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is made up of bipartisan persons with diverse professional backgrounds who serve without compensation to advise the Commission on civil rights concerns in their respective states.