Civil Rights Issues in West Virginia
On July 4, 2000, in Grant Town in Marion County, J.R. Warren, a young black gay man, was killed after being beaten nearly to death by three white teenagers, who then ran over him with a car to disguise the crime as a hit-and-run accident. Two teens pleaded guilty to murder, and a third pleaded guilty as an accessory. Although the killing sparked outrage, prosecutors contended that the motive was an argument rather than the victim’s race or sexual orientation; federal authorities subsequently opened an investigation to determine whether the murder was a racially motivated hate crime.
Although the Warren murder occurred after the three community forums, the state’s response to hate crimes and incidents was a major topic of discussion at the forums. Panelists focused on the work of the West Virginia Hate Crime Task Force, which fosters collaboration among law enforcement agencies, other state officials, civil rights groups, schools, and community groups to respond to hate crimes. Panelists commended the successful initiatives of the task force in several areas, while pointing out the need to continue and greatly expand its work. In addition, panelists called for legislative changes to include people with disabilities as a protected class under the West Virginia hate crimes statute.
Overview of the Hate Crime Task Force
The Hate Crime Task Force was created in 1991 by the West Virginia Human Rights Commission as an ongoing advisory committee to the commission. The initiative came from the Civil Rights Division of the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office, and was prompted by the federal Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990, which mandated that the U.S. attorney general compile hate crime statistics reported voluntarily by state law enforcement agencies. Paul Sheridan, senior assistant attorney general with the Civil Rights Division and coordinator of the Hate Crime Task Force, outlined the activities of the task force to the Logan forum, and the work of the task force was presented to the Charleston forum by West Virginia Attorney General Darrel V. McGraw.
Active since 1992, the Hate Crime Task Force brings together senior representatives from West Virginia law enforcement agencies, other state agencies, and civil rights organizations. It focuses on diverse coalition-building to combat hate crimes. Despite lacking tangible resources such as its own offices and staff, the task force has significantly enhanced the state’s ability to prevent and respond to hate crimes by taking initiatives in the following areas:
- Reporting and data collection on hate crimes and hate incidents.
- Training for law enforcement agents on how to recognize and respond to hate crimes.
- Hate crime prevention programs in secondary schools.
- Hate crime education in communities.
Task force coordinator Paul Sheridan stressed that addressing hate crimes remains a large task that requires additional efforts not only by law enforcement officials but also by other sectors.
Reporting and Collecting Data on Hate Crimes
Since 1992, the Hate Crime Task Force has maintained a database of hate crimes and other incidents that may contribute to a climate of hate without necessarily involving a criminal act. To facilitate data collection, the task force has established and publicized a telephone hot line that citizens can use to report hate crimes and incidents. Of the incidents recorded from 1992 through June 2000, 120 were classified as probable hate crimes. Of these, 63 percent involved a racial bias, 23 percent a sexual orientation bias, 9 percent a religion bias, 3 percent an ethnic origin bias, and 2 percent a disability bias. The following examples cited in the task force database are illustrative of reported incidents:
- June 2000—An African American man had a swastika carved into the paint of his car and other damage done to his vehicle while visiting his white girlfriend in Kanawha County.
- March 2000—A man wearing a “gay pride” T-shirt was assaulted and struck in the face by a group of 8–10 youths outside his home in Charleston. The group also threw a brick through his front window; the next day, after he had reported the incident to police, his house was vandalized again.
- August 1999—Four African American women were attacked in Cabell County by two white men. All four women were physically assaulted and struck with fists by the men, who also hurled racial epithets.
The database maintained by the task force provides a useful resource to gauge potential hate crime incidents and racial tension. The task force does not independently investigate incidents it receives, although state or local police may investigate some. Since the database consists of telephone calls from citizens and newspaper accounts of incidents, it supplements the hate crime data collated by the West Virginia State Police under the state’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR).
FIGURE 5. Suspected Bias Crimes and Incidents Reported to the West Virginia Hate Crime Task Force, 1992–June 2000
Source: West Virginia Hate Crime Task Force, Annual Report, June 2000.
Since 1996, West Virginia has included hate crimes in its UCR reports. Until 1998, there was a serious problem of underreporting. For example, in 1996, only 7 percent of West Virginia’s 317 police departments were keeping hate crime data. At the Logan forum, Mr. Sheridan testified, “We have a very, very incomplete picture of how serious the problem is. I wish I could tell you . . . whether it’s getting better or worse. . . . It’s clear that there is a serious problem. We know that. But beyond that we can’t really say.” However, according to recent statistics, the percentage of law enforcement agencies submitting information to the UCR has steadily improved. In 1998 (at the time of the Logan forum), 37 percent of police departments provided data and the UCR reported a total of 21 hate crimes. In 1999, approximately 70 percent of law enforcement agencies in West Virginia reported crime information to the State Police. This figure has steadily risen to approximately 85 percent in 2000, 92 percent in 2001, and 95 percent in 2002.
Speaking at the Morgantown forum, Jim Jeffers, director of the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services, noted that West Virginia does not include people with disabilities as a protected class under the state hate crimes statute, nor does the federal statute. He observed that many people do not want to believe that such incidents occur, and that reports are even more incomplete than with hate crimes against other groups. Many states do include people with disabilities as a protected class, although the federal law does not. He recommended that West Virginia and federal laws on hate crimes be amended to cover crimes motivated by bias against the victim’s physical or mental disability.
Training for Law Enforcement on Hate Crimes
Since 1997, the Hate Crime Task Force has been working with law enforcement agencies to provide in-service training for police officers on “Responding to Hate Crimes.” It has received national recognition for its team model of hate crime training, in which each training team includes a law enforcement officer, a prosecutor, and someone with a community, civil rights, or victims’ rights perspective. About 300 to 400 police officers a year attend the eight-hour training program. The training is also available to cadets at the West Virginia State Police Academy, and a 22-minute video developed by the task force (Targets of Hate) has been available since 1998.
Hate Crime Prevention Programs in Schools
Paul Sheridan told the Logan forum, “We know from what data we have that the majority of hate crimes are committed by young people” acting out the prejudices of their parents. Furthermore, a significant proportion of reported hate crimes and incidents takes place in or around schools. Hate crime prevention programs in secondary schools not only reach a target population of teenagers at risk for being involved in hate incidents but also help to keep schools free of bias-motivated harassment that can interfere with learning.
In 1997 and 1998, the task force assisted the West Virginia State Board of Education in formulating, enacting, and implementing regulations addressed at bias-motivated harassment and violence in schools (Policy 2421), and the task force has also provided training to educators on how to implement the policy.
In 1999, the Civil Rights Division of the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office launched a pilot program in 12 secondary schools across the state, the West Virginia Civil Rights Team Project. Based on a successful model from the state of Maine, the project makes use of teams of students in each school who work through student-initiated projects to make their school a more tolerant place. In addition to changing the general climate in schools, the pilot project aims to create mechanisms by which minority students or their friends can alert school officials to harassment before it escalates to the level of serious violence. Panelists expressed hope that this promising program would be continued and expanded to other schools in the state.
Training for Communities on Hate CrimesThe Hate Crime Task Force has also provided training for trainers and education resources to build community ability to recognize and prevent hate crimes. The task force efforts include showing educational materials from the Not in Our Town project. The project includes a documentary based on the successful efforts of Billings, Montana, wherein residents responded to hate and discrimination in their community.
See the Associated Press, “Hate
Crimes Review Remains Open,” Charleston
Gazette, Aug. 26, 2001; and the Associated Press, “Teen Pleads Guilty
in Brutal Death of Black Man,” Charleston
Gazette, July 20, 2001.
A hate crime is defined as a criminal offense, usually involving violence,
intimidation, or harassment, in which the victim is targeted because of bias
against a group or class of people to which the victim belongs. As such,
they not only injure the direct victim but also send a message that creates
fear and insecurity in the community the victim represents. Paul R.
Sheridan, senior assistant attorney general, Civil Rights Division, West
Virginia Office of the Attorney General, West Virginia Hate Crime Task
Force, Annual Report of the West Virginia Hate Crime Task Force, submitted
to Ivan B. Lee, executive director, West Virginia Human Rights Commission,
June 2000, p. 9. Neither the federal hate crimes statute nor the West
Virginia hate crimes law covers crimes committed because of a victim’s
sexual orientation, so the federal investigation is looking only at whether
the Warren murder involved racial hatred.
The Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990 required the U.S. attorney general to
establish guidelines under the Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR) for the
collection of data on hate crimes for four years beginning in 1990. In 1996,
the Church Arson Prevention Act continued
hate crimes data collection under the UCR program for each subsequent
calendar year. U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation,
Criminal Justice Information Services Division, Hate Crime Data
Collection Guidelines, October 1999, p. 1.
Sheridan testimony before the West Virginia Advisory Committee to the U.S.
Commission on Civil Rights, community forum, Logan, WV, Nov. 17, 1998,
transcript, pp. 67–79 (hereafter cited as Logan
Transcript); McGraw testimony before the West Virginia Advisory
Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, community forum,
Charleston, WV, Apr. 20, 2000, transcript, pp. 94–97 (hereafter cited as Charleston Transcript).
For additional background on the task force and its work, see Chuck
Smith et al., “West Virginia’s Hate Crime Task Force,” West Virginia Public Affairs Reporter, vol. 17, no. 4 (Fall 2000),
Institute for Public Affairs, West Virginia University; West Virginia Hate
Crime Task Force, West Virginia Hate
Crime Law: Training Manual; and Annual
Report of the West Virginia Hate Crime Task Force, June 2000.
As of January 2002, the task force receives funding through a grant from the
U.S. Department of Justice. The grant is sent to the West Virginia Division
of Criminal Justice Services for approval.
Sheridan testimony, Logan Transcript, pp. 67–70.
Annual Report of the West Virginia
Hate Crime Task Force, p. 12. The West Virginia hate crimes statute (W.
Va. Code § 61-6-21) specifically mentions “race, color, religion,
ancestry, national origin, political affiliation, or sex” as motives for
hate or bias crimes. Neither disability nor sexual orientation is included,
and crimes motivated by disability or sexual orientation therefore cannot be
charged under § 61-6-21. However, as explained in the training manual
produced by the West Virginia Hate Crime Task Force, these offenses are
still hate crimes. They should be reported as such under the Uniform Crime
Reporting Program, and may be chargeable under one or more categories of
common law offenses. See West
Virginia Hate Crime Task Force, West
Virginia Hate Crime Law: Training
Manual, p. 20.
Annual Report of the West Virginia
Hate Crime Task Force, appendix B1, B2.
West Virginia is one of many states opting into the Federal Bureau of
Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting program. Under West Virginia
Code § 15-2-24(i), all state, county, and municipal law enforcement
agencies are required to submit uniform crime reports to the Department of
Safety’s Criminal Identification Bureau. In 1997, the West Virginia State
Police implemented data collection and reporting guidelines whereby agencies
are required to collect information on hate crimes and convert their
previous system to the State Police incident-based reporting system. These
data are submitted to the FBI. First Lt. S. Gale Midkiff, West Virginia
State Police, telephone interview with Marc Pentino, Eastern Regional
Office, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Aug. 16, 2002. See also W.
Va. Code § 15-2-24(i) (2001); W. Va. Procedural Rule
Annual Report of the West Virginia Hate Crime Task Force, p. 10.
Ibid., p. 9.
Sheridan testimony, Logan Transcript,
Annual Report of the West Virginia Hate Crime Task Force, pp.
First Lt. S. Gale Midkiff, West Virginia State Police, telephone interview
with Marc Pentino, Eastern Regional Office, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights,
Aug. 16, 2002. See W. Va. Code §
15-2-24(i) (2001); W. Va. Procedural Rule
Jeffers testimony before the West Virginia Advisory Committee to the U.S.
Commission on Civil Rights, community forum, Morgantown, WV, June 14, 1999,
transcript, p. 40 (hereafter cited as Morgantown
Morgantown Transcript, pp. 41–42.
Ibid., pp. 40–42.
Ibid. Although not discussed in the community forums, pressure has also been
growing, especially since the Warren murder, to expand hate crime laws,
particularly at the state level, to cover crimes motivated by hatred of gay
men and lesbians. For example, in both 2000 and 2001, the West Virginia
Senate passed a hate crime bill that would add sexual orientation and
disability to the list of motives. Both times the bill died in the House,
but supporters of the legislation say they are slowly gaining votes. In fall
2001, the Charleston City Council began considering a hate crime bill for
the city that would cover crimes based on sexual orientation or disability
as well as those already covered by the state law. See
Deanna Wrenn, “Charleston Council Will Weigh Its Own Hate Crime Bill; Gay
or Disabled People Could Have New Protections,” Charleston
Daily Mail, Nov. 2, 2001.
Annual Report of the West Virginia
Hate Crime Task Force, pp. 2–3.
Sheridan testimony, Logan Forum, pp. 76–77.
Annual Report of the West Virginia
Hate Crime Task Force, p. 13.
 See West Virginia Office of the Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, “Civil Rights Team Project,” which states: “The civil rights team at each school consists of three students per grade, plus one or two faculty advisors. The teams attend an orientation program conducted by the Civil Rights Division of the Attorney General’s Office, and then work throughout the school year to provide education and awareness on issues of bias and prejudice. Additionally, the teams create a mechanism by which students can provide information about harassment directly to team members. The teams have no responsibility with respect to discipline. Rather, when the teams learn of harassment, their responsibility is to pass the information on to the appropriate school or law enforcement authorities. The Civil Rights Division also conducts an in-service training for the faculty and administrators of each of the participating schools. The three-hour training program is conducted by a two-person team which includes a staff attorney from the Civil Rights Division and an educator.” <http://www.wvonline.com/efhs/civilrights/attorneygen.htm>.
project details, see West Virginia Office of the Attorney General, 1999–2000
Civil Rights Team Project: Fall Training Manual, June 2000; and McGraw
testimony, Charleston Transcript, pp. 90–94.
 Sheridan testimony, Logan Transcript, p. 78.