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Johns Creek adopts hate crime ordinance

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Johns Creek is now one of a few cities in Georgia that will impose harsher penalties for code violations deemed “hate crimes.”

In a 5-1 vote, the City Council passed the policy at its Feb. 24 meeting. Councilwoman Stephanie Endres cast the lone dissent. 

Modeled after a policy that passed in Sandy Springs last summer, the ordinance instructs municipal judges to impose harsher penalties if a crime is motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived race, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical or mental disability.

The policy only applies to vandalism, disorderly conduct and creating a disturbance at school. More serious crimes, like assault or homicide, would be tried at the state level, and so the city’s policy could not apply. Georgia is one of four states in America without a hate crime law.

Under the city ordinance, prosecutors would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was motivated by hate. The ordinance also includes provisions that ask the Johns Creek Police Department to work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to collect statistics on hate crimes. 

At the meeting, two speakers voiced support for the hate crime policy during public comment. Councilwoman Erin Elwood opened up about hateful language she had faced during her campaign, while Mayor Mike Bodker spoke on how acts of anti-Semitism had affected him as a Jewish man. 

“I think there’s a simple message in this ordinance,” Bodker said. “It’s that hate will not be allowed in Johns Creek. Period.”

Endres said she voted against the ordinance because she believed it would regulate thought and would only protect certain individuals. 

“My main concern is that we’re passing an ordinance that is only applicable to specific individuals,” she said. “I’ve been consistent in everything I’ve done in four years to represent all 84,000, plus or minus, residents of Johns Creek.”

Elwood, an attorney, disagreed with that interpretation. 

“Every single person in this room, all 84,000 people in this city, have a race,” she said. “Whether you are targeted because you’re white, black, brown or anything in between, you are protected.”

Councilman John Bradberry voted for the ordinance but added an amendment to remove a section that would have included anti-bigotry educational programs as one of the possible punishments. 

“We are trying to not police thought but rather conduct,” Bradberry said. “If we’re going to have that construct — and that is, I think, key to keeping it constitutional — I don’t know why we would violate that construct on the penalty side.”

Councilman Chris Coughlin was absent for the vote. 

In other business at the meeting, the council rejected a rezoning request to build a self-storage facility at the corner of Jones Bridge Road and Taylor Road. In spite of the developer’s attempts to address concerns over noise, traffic and sightlines, several nearby residents spoke against the proposal. 

Through their questioning, the City Council made clear they would rather see a more residential-friendly business on the lot, such as a preschool, church or gym.