New criminal laws aim to combat ethnic intimidation

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By SOPHIA CERU
Capital News Service 

LANSING – Due to Michigan’s constant increase in hate crimes, the Legislature has updated state laws on hate crimes for the first time since 1988.

Students, families and religious groups remain threatened by ethnic intimidation all over the state, experts say.

In 2022, 11% of all reported hate crimes were religion-based, 5.4% were gender-based and 1.5% were disability-based, according to Michigan Incident Crime Reporting.

Current laws against hate crimes are outdated with no mention of protection against crimes that target ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, age or physical and mental disability, according toRep. Noah Arbit, D-West Bloomfield, who sponsored the legislation and chairs the House Judiciary Committee, and Attorney Gen. Dana Nessel.

Michigan joined 35 other states that prohibit the defacement, destruction and vandalism of institutions. This includes houses of worship, community centers, business and nonprofit headquarters and digital and online property.

The new legislation in part redefines hate crimes, prohibits the crime of ethnic intimidation and increases sentences of repeat violators, they said.

In Manistee County, Charles Sensing was arrested in December on charges including ethnic intimidation and assault with a dangerous weapon for allegedly threatening an Amish family with a knife. 

As an Amish mother, father and baby were traveling home from church by horse and buggy, Sensing, of Clare, allegedly approached them while waving a knife at them, according to the State Police. He allegedly threatened that there would be problems if they were to travel on that road again.

Sensing has been known to threaten other Amish families in the area, according to State Police. 

Many families in Michigan are afraid to practice their religion freely, Arbit and Nessel said.

Whether it is person-to-person intimidation or fear of their homes being taken away, people are fighting for their right to religious freedom, says the American Civil Liberties Union.

 An expert in criminology and Amish studies, Joseph Donnemeyer, expressed concern for the safety of the Amish population as they continue to grow and settle in Michigan.

“The Amish have always been subject to hate crimes. Whether it is vandalism, drive-by shootings of their horses or armed robbery, the Amish have always been a target,” said Donnermeyer, a professor emeritus in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at Ohio State University.

“I see the hate increasing when the Amish choose to settle in rural areas. They find these rural areas where there is a heavy focus on Christian nationalism. These people do not like it when the Amish choose to settle in these places,” he said.

He said the Amish population is doubling every 21 years or so and are among the fastest-growing religions in the country.

Many of Michigan’s Amish live in Hillsdale, Lenawee, Branch, St. Joseph, Oscoda and Calhoun counties.

Bryan Byers, a professor emeritus of criminal justice and criminology at Ball State University, has done extensive research on the Amish community and the hate and harassment they face.

“The Amish community always receives hate. It is hard to regulate the issues because the Amish tend to let things go unreported due to their religious beliefs,” Byers said. 

“Most of the crimes committed against the Amish are misdemeanors,” including running them off the road, shouting at them from vehicles and smashing their mailboxes, he said. “Usually, the only crimes that are reported are those that are on a more serious level.”