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Gillette City Council narrowly passes hate crime ordinance on first reading

Jonathan Gallardo via the Gillette News Record, via the Wyoming News Exchange

GILLETTE — Gillette City Council members and many others in the community are divided over a proposed hate crime ordinance, evidenced by the turnout and comments made at a City Council meeting Tuesday night.
Residents packed the city council chambers to speak on the proposed city law, which would create penalties for crimes that are committed based on hate, discrimination or bias.
Wyoming is one of only two states, along with South Carolina, that does not have a hate crime law. Laramie, Cheyenne, Casper and Jackson already have local hate crime ordinances.
Supporters said the proposed ordinance would make the community safer and more welcoming for everyone, while its detractors worried that it would lead to the curtailing of First Amendment rights.
The Gillette City Council also was split on the issue, voting 4-3 in favor on its first reading, with Council members Jim West, Billy Montgomery and Nathan McLeland and Heidi Gross supporting it. The ordinance must pass two more readings before it becomes law.
Montgomery had brought forth the ordinance to send the message that Gillette is a welcoming environment for everybody.
More than 30 people spoke at a public hearing before the vote.
A statement from Ariane Jimison, co-owner of Pizza Carrello, was read aloud. In it, she said she and her wife, Rachel Kalenberg, don’t feel safe in Gillette and that they’ve experienced harassment, threats and had their property destroyed.
“Some people want us to be quiet about our lives,” Jimison wrote. “Others would love to round us up and kill us.”
Dave Ebertz said crimes based on prejudice or bias hurt more than the individual victim.
“Irrational biased violence is a crime that undermines the entire community,” he said. “This is not what Gillette should be.”
“This ordinance will not change minds,” he added. “Some will continue to harbor hate and fear of anyone who is different. But please let us be a community that encourages diversity, it has and can make Gillette a good place to live.”
Casey Cook said “everybody agrees what a crime is,” and that the city doesn’t need to “create new victims.” He added that if people don’t want to move to Gillette because of its political leanings, then they don’t have to come here.
“We don’t have any urgent need to import people who are easily offended on account of leftist ideologies,” he said.

Dean Vomhof, who wore a rainbow-colored wig and a blue dress, said this ordinance is trying to shut down freedom of expression.
“Some people laughed at me when I walked in today,” he said. "Would they be charged with a hate crime?”
And Sen. Troy McKeown said while “hate speech and hate crime may or may not be a problem,” the ordinance is unconstitutional.
“What actual crime will this stop?” McKeown asked. “It’s another way to take people’s freedoms away.”
Kathy Halvorsen said freedom of speech doesn’t allow people to say things that instigate violence, and that the “diversity of people and ideas in Gillette is what will carry us through the tough economic times ahead.”

Deb Michaels said that since she moved to Gillette in 1978, she’s seen respect and tolerance deteriorate over the years. She pointed out that anti-Semitic flyers were distributed in the Westover neighborhood of Gillette a couple of weeks ago.
City Attorney Sean Brown, who drafted the ordinance, said “speech alone is not enough” for someone to be prosecuted. First, it must be proven that a crime, such as battery or destruction of property, has been committed.
“If that’s true, then you move on to the next phase,” he said. “If we have that in place, do we have maliciousness … and specific intent to do that thing because of some protected characteristic?”
Mayor Shay Lundvall said he didn’t support the ordinance because he believed it would hurt more than it would help.
“It will give some people more rights than others and end up creating more division in the community,” he said.
Gross said that if this had come up five years ago, she would have said Gillette didn’t need this ordinance. But she’s seen “so many things the last couple of years” that’s caused her to change her mind.
“I really think that there’s got to be a line drawn,” she said. “It just saddens me to see what’s been going on in our community, and the latest thing with this anti-Semitic flyer. It was disgusting.
“Is that the kind of community we want to be?” she asked. "Is that what we want to show our children and grandchildren? Behavior like that? Yes, it may be free speech, but is that really what we want? I think we’re better than that.”

This story was published on May 3, 2023. 

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