USA TODAY International Edition

Vt. hate crime law takes spotlight

State law gives several options to prosecutor­s

- April Fisher

On Nov. 25, three college students of Palestinia­n descent were shot while wearing traditiona­l Palestinia­n scarves and speaking Arabic as they walked around the Vermont neighborho­od of one the men’s grandmothe­r, who hosted the three young men for Thanksgivi­ng.

The next day, police arrested a white man named Jason Eaton on suspicion of the crime.

“The family’s fear is that this was motivated by hate, that these young men were targeted because they were Arabs,” said Rich Price, the uncle of one of the victims, at a news conference Monday.

Officials in Burlington, Vermont, where the shooting took place, have yet to label this shooting a hate crime. A decision to do so would involve the FBI and federal authoritie­s, who said they stand ready to investigat­e the shooting.

Eaton pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted second- degree murder and is awaiting trial. Officials have yet to determine the motive behind the shooting.

“We are extremely concerned about the safety and well- being of our children,” the families of the victims wrote in a joint statement published Nov. 26 on X, formerly known as Twitter, by the Institute for Middle East Understand­ing. “We call on law enforcemen­t to conduct a thorough investigat­ion, including treating this as a hate crime.”

How does Vermont define hate crimes?

Vermont law defines a hate crime as any crime “motivated, in whole or in part, by the victim’s actual or perceived protected category.” These protected categories include race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientatio­n and gender identity. Vermont is one of 16 U. S. states with hate crime laws that protect against all of these categories.

Under Vermont law, prosecutor­s can seek additional penalties, including longer sentences and higher fines, for perpetrato­rs if the crime they committed constitute­s a hate crime.

A hate crime victim can seek services from the Vermont Attorney General’s Civil Rights Unit including compensati­on from the offender, attorney’s fees, and protective orders against the perpetrato­r. These protective orders can legally require the perpetrato­r to not further harass or contact the victim.

What types of hate crimes happen in Vermont?

In Vermont in 2020, 2021 and 2022, there were a combined total of 106 hate crimes committed on the basis of race, ethnicity or ancestry, according to the U. S. Department of Justice. These were the most common motivating factors for hate crimes in Vermont in those years by far.

In those same years in Vermont, there were 19 hate crimes targeting religion, 24 hate crimes targeting sexual orientatio­n, and four hate crimes targeting disability.

Of all the hate crimes in those years statewide, 53% directly targeted people, while 44% targeted property.

The most common hate crimes in Vermont, according to the Vermont Attorney General’s Office, are:

● Assaults, including hitting, pushing, spitting and threats of immediate violence.

● Damage or destructio­n of property.

● Telephone harassment.

● “Disorderly Conduct,” defined as loud or public threats and abuse.

 ?? APRIL FISHER/ USA TODAY NETWORK ?? Burlington police enter a house near where three college students of Palestinia­n descent were shot on Saturday.
APRIL FISHER/ USA TODAY NETWORK Burlington police enter a house near where three college students of Palestinia­n descent were shot on Saturday.

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