Cohen calls for stiffer penalties on hate crimes - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Nick Kenney

Cohen calls for stiffer penalties on hate crimes

The video showed a Memphis Police officer beating a transgendered woman at the Criminal Justice Center.  The victim, Duanna Johnson, said the attack was a hate crime, but Tennessee does not have a hate crime law.

Representative Steve Cohen wants to change that.

Within the past year, Representative Steve Cohen co-sponsored hate crime legislation in the United States Congress.

"People who commit hate crimes, whether based on race, gender, sexual orientation, are attacking a whole group of people," Cohen said.

Last week, the discussion took center stage. Inside the Shelby County jail, surveillance video rolled as Memphis Police officer Bridges McRae struck transgendered prostitute Duanna Johnson.

Some gay and lesbian groups argued the incidet, recorded last February, constituted a hate crime. Cohen said it is a possibility.

"I don't want to pre-judge. And I really shouldn't. I think it has certain aspects of it. I think certainly it appears to be, but that's something a court might have to decide," Cohen said.

In the state of Tennessee, only a court can decide.

There are no separate hate crimes laws that can result in criminal charges. If a defendant is found guilty, then a court can consider whether his or her actions constitute a hate crime. The determination would have an affect on sentencing.

Regardless, Cohen said, the jailhouse beat down at least deserves another label.

"What happened at the police department was a tragedy. To see people who's duty and position of trust is to protect instead they were not protecting they were attacking. They became the assailants," Cohen said.

Click here to e-mail Nick Kenney.

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