At first glance, a hate crimes law would appear unnecessary and just another way to further complicate our legal system. But then you remind yourself that some people are motivated to hurt others for such malicious reasons as simply not liking their sexual orientation or race.

A man who hit a woman in a bar in Americus became the first person in Georgia to be prosecuted under the new hate crimes law approved by the Legislature in March.

Instead of just six months probation and $400 fine, Steven Van Deventer will serve one month in jail and 11 months on probation, pay a $600 fine and complete 40 hours of community service and anger management classes. He will also pay his victim's medical bills.

Van Deventer pleaded no contest to charges of simple battery after he hit Sissy Bowen in the head after picking on her and questioning her about her life. Bowen said she didn't know if it was because she is a woman or lesbian or because of how her friends were dressed.

She said Van Deventer asked her to fight, saying, "Do you want to be a man?" When she got up to leave, she said Van Deventer hit her in the side of the head.

We hope the message inherent in this case and in the new law will be heard by those who would injure others because of race, gender or religion.

Unfortunately, real changes will not result until all parents begin to educate their children that it is wrong to mistrust or hate someone because they are different.

Until then, the justice system will have to slap these people just a little harder.



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