Cuomo Proposes Mass Casualty Hate Crime be Considered Domestic Terrorism

Penalty would be the same as terrorism, up to life without parole

Tom Puckett
August 16, 2019 - 4:00 am

Albany, NY (WBEN) Governor Cuomo introduced a first-in-the-nation domestic terrorism law to include mass violence motivated by hate. Under this proposal, mass shootings against a group of people based on their actual or perceived race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, gender identity or expression, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation would be punishable by up to life in prison without parole.

"We must begin by recognizing the crisis for what it is because you will never solve a problem in life you are unwilling to admit, and today New York State acknowledges the ugly truth: that we have an enemy within, an American cancer, where one cell in the body politic attacks the other cells in the body. It spreads in the hidden corners of the internet, and from the highest positions in the land, and it infects sick and hate-filled hearts. This new violent epidemic is hate fueled American on American terrorism," says Cuomo. "We still treat terrorism as an act committed by foreigners. It is. But that is only part of it.  It is now a two-front war on terrorism. It is fed by hate, but hate from abroad and hate right here at home: white supremacists, anti-Semites, anti-LGBTQ, white nationalists. These are Americans committing mass hate crimes against other Americans and it should be recognized for what it is: domestic terrorism. American citizens who are radicalized - not by a foreign ideology but rather radicalized by hate for other Americans - but that is still terrorism."

Cuomo wants the penalty to be the same as terrorism, life in prison without parole. "These are hate crimes on steroids. They are mass hate crimes and they are terrorism. And the punishment should fit the crime, period. In the state of New York, it will," says Cuomo.

The new statute proposed by the Governor would define mass casualty as any incident that results in the murder of at least one person and the attempted murder of at least two additional people and when that violence is motivated by hate. This definition of mass casualty would parallel the FBI's definition of a mass killing - which is defined as three or more deaths.

Cuomo adds the bill would also create a domestic terrorism task force to study mass shootings, recommend practices to prevent potential mass shootings and shooting incidents and recommend security practices in locations likely to be targeted by mass shooters. This task force would be required to provide its finding to the Governor and the Legislature.

Cuomo is also calling on the federal government to pass legislation mirroring the NYSafe Act. "The same law that the nation still needs to pass today. It is the same law the nation should pass today. Ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines. Start universal background checks. Close all those loopholes. The SAFE Act was six years ago, before another 2,458 Americans and before another 9,000 were wounded," says Cuomo. "Washington Democrats must show today that they have the leadership to bring that change to the country. They must expose this President and the Republican Senators as the political cowards they are and lackeys for the gun industry that they serve. This is no time for Democratic division or for legislative baby steps. Members of the Senate, Congress, and every democratic Presidential candidate should put aside their own personal politics, stand up to the gun lobby, and offer a strong, unified comprehensive gun proposal to end the carnage once and for all. It's the Democrats who have to expose the President's failure of leadership and political pandering by now providing a clear alternative. And then in turn, give the American people a real choice and they will make the right decision because they want common sense gun reform. We just need to make the political establishment follow the people rather than the people following the political establishment."

Dr. Steven MacMartin of Medaille College says he has reservations about combining the two statutes. "I think it's going to be difficult coming up with specific definitions that fit for both statutes. I believe there are pre-existing hate crime laws. I'm not sure why they're not changing the penalties in that to bring that in line with terrorism," says MacMartin. "I'm never a fan of mixing two different crimes."

MacMartin says there are differences between a hate crime and terrorism. "A hate crime is a crime motivated by a prejudice. Terrorism is a crime perpetrated for a political or ideological goal," explains MacMartin. "A terrorism issue is longer term. A hate crime, you may have unknown individuals who are carrying hatred, but it's less systemic thatn terrorism," but emphasizes the hate crimes are no worse than terroristic acts.

MacMartin adds in a case of a true hate crime, it is difficult to bring a terrorism charge.

MacMartin reacts to Cuomo's call to have federal lawmakers pass a bill similar to NYSAFE. "I'm sure federal lawmakers will look at it. I know some of the Gang of 20 have already proposed a ban on assault weapons. I don't believe that's a solution. I think there are many things we can try before that," says MacMartin. "We've talked about this issue before with weapons being used in these mass attacks. There are other reasons other than the availability of guns, and I think in some of this, it's a knee jerk reaction to what we are going to do next and put a band aid on a more complicated issue."


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