Zillow CEO Rich Barton, along with leaders at 60 companies including real estate giants Cushman & Wakefield, H.J. Russell & Co., and PulteGroup, signed a letter on Monday asking the Georgia General Assembly to pass a hate crimes law.
“As the General Assembly goes back into session, we write to urge you to support, approve, and sign into law a comprehensive, specific, and clear bill against hate crimes,” the letter read. “We must all stand strong and united against targeted violence and bigotry.”
“Diversity extends to a wide range of issues from race and ethnicity, to gender, sexual orientation, religion, and physical ability, among other important characteristics that make each of us different but also deserving of protection from any attack that is motivated by hatred for the victim due to bias or prejudice,” it added.
On Twitter, Barton provided a brief explanation of his support, saying “Georgia is one of only a handful of states without a hate crimes bill on the books. We signed on to support [the bill] because everyone should have legal protection from targeted violence and bigotry.”
Intensified public interest in the law came after Gregory and Travis McMichael’s arrest for killing Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black jogger in Glynn County, Georgia. A video shows the McMichaels yelling a racial slur before shooting Arbery as he attempted to escape.
As of 2020, Georgia is one of four states without a hate crime law. According to an explainer by the Anti-Defamation League, hate crime laws provide “penalty enhancement” in cases where a “victim is intentionally selected for violence because of [his/her/their] personal characteristics.”
Beyond offering the victim and their immediate circle justice, the ADL said hate crime laws also provide a sense of protection to the victim’s greater community (e.g. Black, Hispanic, LGBT, etc.) who also fear being targeted.
“Whenever a bias-motivated crime is committed, the victim’s entire community is left feeling victimized, vulnerable, fearful, isolated, and unprotected by the law,” the ADL added. “Such crimes can also lead to reprisals and a dangerous spiral of escalating inter-group tension and violence.”
“Thus, the impact of the crime is far greater than the already terrible impact on the individual,” the explainer concluded.
In a statement to Fox 5 Atlanta, House Speaker David Ralston said the passage of House Bill 426 has been stalled by a lack of support from the State Judiciary Committee and Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan, who want to amend the bill.
The amendment, he said, would allow victims to file civil suits and provide training on how to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. However, Ralston said he and other representatives believe the amendment process could be a tactic to stall progress.
“This is an important piece of legislation to get right,” Duncan told Fox 5 in response to Ralston’s allegation.
The Metro Atlanta and Georgia Chambers of Commerce along with the 60 signees said they’re committed to helping the General Assembly make House Bill 426 into law.
“We must come together, engage in tough conversations, and find solutions to make our communities and our country a place of hope and not despair, where diversity is celebrated and justice is assured,” the letter concluded.
“Georgia’s economic future and the dignity of our citizens depend on it.”
Read the letter in full below: