The family of Larnell Bruce, Jr., the black teenager murdered in Gresham by a member of a white supremacist gang, wrote to Oregon legislators this weekend to urge them to pass a bill that would strengthen the state's hate crime statute.
Larnell Bruce, Sr., and Natasha Bruce, his father and stepmother, wrote June 1 to the three lawmakers who chair the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which has the power to push Senate Bill 577 forward or let it stall without a vote.
"You know the importance of this Hate Crime legislation at a time when
hate crimes are increasing in Oregon," the letter says. "This is deeply personal to us. Every day, we live with the pain of hate crimes, and the deep sorrow that the state's antiquated intimidation laws allowed a convicted white supremacist murderer to receive a lesser sentence."
Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose), Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D-Beaverton) and Rep. Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis) co-chair the committee, where the bill sits now.
Last week, advocates and politicians began raising concerns that the proposed legislation had not been added to a list of bills set to be funded by the end of 2019.
Rayfield says SB 577, which would elevate serious hate crime charges to felonies and require more consistent bias crime tracking, is a top priority for him. He says he is still optimistic the bill can continue to move forward.
The Bruce family has been outspoken in their support for the hate crime bill and tougher penalties for people who commit serious offenses because of racial bias. The new law would have added up to five years to the sentence given to Russell Courtier, the European Kindred member who ran down Larnell Bruce, Jr., in a red jeep and killed him in August 2016. Courtier faces a life sentence, with the possibility of parole in 32 years.
The state charged Courtier with murder and intimidation, Oregon's bias crime charge. But because of the way the law is written, the intimidation charge was a misdemeanor.
"Under Oregon law, it is presently a felony for two individuals to apply racist graffiti but a misdemeanor for one individual to beat another individual because of the color of their skin," Aaron Knott, legislative director for the Oreogn Department of Justice told legislators in testimony submitted on the bill in March.
The bill must be moved out of the Ways and Means Committee before legislators can vote on the changes.