As James Alex Fields Jr. was sentenced Friday for federal hate crimes in the 2017 Charlottesville car attack, several U.S. legislators introduced a bill that aims to improve hate crimes reporting, and named it in honor of one of Fields’ victims.

The Khalid Jabara-Heather Heyer NO HATE Act aims to improve hate crimes reporting and expand assistance and resources for victims of hate crimes. As hate incidents increase across the country, Fields’ sentence and new legislation could be important deterrents for future events, according to experts.

“This is a clear, unequivocal message that these violent, hate-filled people need to hear,” said Kami Chavis, a law professor at Wake Forest University and director of its criminal justice program, of Fields’ sentence. “This is a very clear message about the values of our nation, and underscores the importance of having effective hate crime legislation.”

Heyer was an employee at a Charlottesville law firm who joined a counter-protest that marched against the Unite the Right rally on Aug. 12, 2017. She was murdered by Fields, who drove his car into the crowd.

On Friday, Fields received 29 life sentences for his actions, which were charged as hate crimes by federal prosecutors. He also has been found guilty on state charges but has not yet been sentenced for those charges.

Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, briefly mentioned the new bill after the sentencing hearing; the Heather Heyer Foundation has endorsed the bill. Bro said she would continue to fight for civil rights, including through legislation.

“You don’t get to knock my child down and silence that voice without 500 more raising up,” she said.

Jabrara was a Tulsa, Oklahoma, man who, along with his family, was targeted by a neighbor due to their Lebanese heritage. In 2016, the neighbor shot and killed Jabrara, and was later convicted of murder under Oklahoma’s hate crimes statute.

Neither crime was initially reported to the federal database as a hate crime, however.

Law enforcement and activists are hampered by inconsistent data.

“Over the years, one of the greatest barriers to confronting and overcoming hate violence on national, state and local levels has been the lack of firm statistical data on the incidence and nature of those crimes,” according to a 2016 report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The FBI reported 7,175 hate crimes in 2017, a 17% jump from the previous year, but the Southern Poverty Law Center, which also tracks such incidents, believes the number was closer to 250,000.

The bill was introduced by Democrats Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. Companion legislation was introduced by U.S. Reps. Don Beyer, D-Va., and Pete Olson, R-Texas, in the House.

“Today’s sentencing is a reminder of the horrific acts of hate we saw when white supremacists descended upon Charlottesville, murdered Heather Heyer and injured many others,” Kaine said. “And it’s a reminder that those of us in leadership need to stand up against hate and do everything in our power to support those who are hurt by it. I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting the Khalid Jabara-Heather Heyer NO HATE Act.”

The new bill aims to improve reporting of hate crimes by:

» training law enforcement agencies to use a national reporting system, which will enable agencies to report incidents to the FBI;

» supporting agencies that establish policies, training and a community relations strategy for hate crimes;

» providing grants for states to start and run hate crime hotlines and direct victims and witnesses to appropriate agencies and support services; and

» allowing judges to require individuals convicted under federal hate crime laws to undergo community service or education centered on the community targeted by the crime.

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Ruth Serven Smith is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7254, or @RuthServen on Twitter.

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