A Republican lawmaker plans to introduce legislation in the Minnesota House to increase the criminal penalties for hate-crime hoaxes in response to the ongoing controversy surrounding “Empire” star Jussie Smollett.
Rep. Nick Zerwas’ (R-Elk River) proposed bill would elevate the false reporting of a hate crime to a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail or a fine of up to $3,000, or both. Current Minnesota law categorizes providing false information to law enforcement officers as a misdemeanor.
“Hate crimes are among society’s most heinous and despicable acts. Those that commit bias-motivated crimes deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” Zerwas said Wednesday. “Unfortunately, false claims of victimization distract from genuine episodes of violent bigotry and discrimination. My bill is a reasonable step to help deter individuals from filing false police reports and to make sure that we devote law enforcement’s limited resources to investigating and prosecuting legitimate bias-motivated crimes.”
In a Wednesday press release, Zerwas said he was motivated to introduce his legislation after reports indicated that the highly-publicized hate crime against Smollett was likely a hoax. As The Minnesota Sun reported, Chicago police suspect that Smollett paid the two perpetrators to stage the attack against him.
“As news reports continue to emerge, it is becoming increasingly clear that the highly publicized hate crime in Chicago last month was a hoax,” Zerwas added. “We need to send a message that similar hoaxes are not welcome in Minnesota as they only seek to divide us and distract from legitimate acts of bias-motivated violence.”
Former State Rep. and gubernatorial candidate Matt Dean praised Zerwas’ legislation on Twitter Wednesday.
“About time. When Jussie cries wolf, cops can’t catch bad guys, scapegoat groups are targeted, and people don’t trust real accusations against the groups hate crime law was meant to protect,” Dean said.
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Nick Zerwas” by Nick Zerwas. Background Photo “Minnesota Capitol Chambers” by Chris Gaukel. CC BY-SA 2.0.