A Frederick County state delegate has proposed a change to the state's hate crime law after an assault at The Great Frederick Fair resulted in the death of a Mount Airy man last week.
Del. Dan Cox (R-District 4) introduced a bill Tuesday, the John Weed Dignity Act, that would add "dignity of the human body" along with harassment and destruction of property to a list of acts that fall under the hate crime statute.
It adds that a person may not spit on, smear or eject any bodily fluids, among other similar actions, on another person if they refuse to give money or other tangible items to that person.
Cox said in an interview Tuesday that he introduced the changes, in part, because of the assault that led to Weed's death, and seeing a video where Weed was spat on after he was punched and lying on the ground.
"I think it’s hateful and I think rational people would think ... it’s hateful to put any bodily fluids on any other individual without their consent. ... When you include with that with the actions of another crime, it raises a concern when you’re targeting someone because of their class, their gender, their age," Cox said.
When asked about whether it's too early to propose changes to the law — as the Frederick County Sheriff's Office and Frederick County State's Attorney's Office are still investigating — he noted the video, and that assault charges have already been filed.
He added that the proposal can be amended, as it has to go through committee and the legislative process.
"The issues that arises after the individual declined giving up his property and the hatred for the refusal to turn property over ... and then spitting on him, it’s despicable and I think it’s something that should be looked at," Cox said.
Sheriff Chuck Jenkins (R) said Tuesday he believed the attack was a hate crime, given a video that shows a man spitting and then other people cheering after the punch is thrown, and Weed falls to the ground.
But he added it would be difficult to charge anyone with a hate crime just for spitting on someone, given the current statute.
"I don’t know what was in their hearts and minds," he said of the group in the video. "But why would you do something to something like that unless there was a reason, unless there was some hatred?"
Jenkins added that he didn't like that Weed's name was on the bill, as it memorializes the event and ties the proposed law change to a specific case.
Some said, however, that it was too early to propose such changes so soon after Friday's assault. That included Sen. Ron Young (D-District 3).
"I think the proper thing is to sit back, it’s in the state’s attorney’s office," Young said. "I think it should be thoroughly investigated before we jump off into any direction about it. ... I think it’s kind of hard to understand and it needs to go before people that deal with the law in these cases."
Del. Ken Kerr (D-District 3B) agreed with that statement.
"I think it’s all a bit premature. The investigation is not even complete yet," Kerr said. "I appreciate that Delegate Cox is upset by this, as we all are. ... We all are saddened and angered that this would have happened ... but we should give the process a chance to play out."
Del. Jesse Pippy (R-District 4) said Tuesday he had spoken with Cox about the proposed changes to the hate crime statute.
He said he understood that Cox's changes could be overreaching, especially regarding scenarios of homeless people asking for money, and then spitting on people who won't. Cox said his proposal is intended to make the action a hate crime in "both ways" — when a person spits on a homeless man asking for money, and a homeless man spits on anyone who refuses to do so.
Pippy added, however, that Cox's proposal could be modified, and it's his right to introduce legislation at any point of the year, like all members of the state's General Assembly.
"Delegate Cox has proposed an idea. We’re all waiting for some of the conclusive evidence," Pippy said when asked if it was too early to introduce legislation, as the investigation is ongoing. "I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with getting ahead of things. It takes months to get anything finalized."