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Civil Rights Laws

California led the nation in 1991 by enacting criminal sanctions for the violation of civil rights laws. The laws provide enhanced sentences for those convicted of violent or threatening behavior based on race, gender, religion, age, disabilities or sexual preference. The tougher penalties and higher civil awards were authored by Lockyer when he was Senate President Pro Tem of the California Legislature.

The Ralph Civil Rights Act was enacted as part of the Civil Code of California to address the problem of racial, ethnic, religious and minority violence by providing civil and administrative remedies for those who are victims of violence directed against any particular class of persons.

If you are a victim you can either file a private lawsuit in the appropriate court, or you can file a complaint with the Attorney General's Civil Rights Enforcement Section or the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. If you chose to file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing you must do so no later than one year after your Ralph Act rights have been violated.

The Bane Civil Rights Act protects people from continued violence or the threat of violence based on grounds such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, political affiliation, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability or position in a labor dispute. The court may grant an injunction prohibiting further intimidating or coercive behavior against you. Any violation of this order is a misdemeanor and may result in fines or imprisonment. If a judgment is awarded in your favor in a private lawsuit, you may receive reasonable attorney=s fees as well.

State law authorizes and encourages cities and counties to establish local human relations commissions to preserve peace among citizens of different races, religions, and national origins. If your community has such a commission, it will be listed in your telephone directory. You may wish to seek its assistance to address hate violence.

If you are a victim or a witness to any of the activities described by these statutes, contact your local police or sheriffs department. If criminal action is taken and you are a victim you may nevertheless pursue injunctive relief. The Bane Act provides that victims may pursue either civil remedies or criminal penalties or both. Complaints also may be filed with the Attorney General's Civil Rights Enforcement Section.

California in 1998 enacted a law that makes the offense of vandalism because of a person's race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, gender, or sexual orientation, punishable as a misdemeanor or a felony. (Statutes of 1998, Chapter 850)

Other statutes enacted recently add gender to the list of felony hate crimes for which enhanced penalties may apply (Statutes of 1998, Chapter 933); and add school property to the list of sites for which felony or misdemeanor penalties may apply when any person who burns or desecrates a cross or other religious symbol, knowing it to be a religious symbol, for the purpose of terrorizing the owner or occupant or in reckless disregard of the risk of terrorizing the owner of occupant (Statutes of 1998, Chapter 414).

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