PORTLAND, Ore. — A mom and dad, whose son was run down and killed in Gresham in 2016 are now fighting to change Oregon's hate crime laws.
Their son, Larnell Bruce Jr., was killed because of the color of his skin. But they said his murderer got a lesser sentence than he should have because of outdated laws. A bill in the senate could change those laws.
"It's hard to talk about, it's tough, we miss him a great deal," said Natasha Bruce, Larnell Jr's mother. "We think about him every day, you know. It doesn't get any easier."
Bruce was intentionally run down by Russell Courtier outside a Gresham 7-Eleven in 2016.
During the trial, prosecutors said Courtier was a member of a white supremacist prison gang and was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison for that charge.
Colleen Hunt, a passenger in Courtier's Jeep, pleaded guilty to manslaughter after originally being charged with murder, hit-and-run, and intimidation. Those charges were dropped in exchange for the plea.
Prosecutors said Hunt egged Courtier on, yelling "get him baby," and, "run him over" during the incident.
However, here is where things get complicated. Under Oregon's current law, two people have to be involved in a hate crime for it to be considered a felony.
That means if a hate crime is committed by only one person, the most they can be charged with now is a misdemeanor, which is what happened in Courtier’s case. Courtier was convicted of second-degree intimidation, which is Oregon’s bias crime.
"If there's a harsher punishment for this crime, they might think twice before doing these things," Natasha Bruce said.
A harsher punishment and justice for future victims is part of why the couple are now one of many people fighting for change and pushing for the passage of Senate Bill 577.
"We've been through a lot and I think this law could definitely change for the better for whoever has to go through what we've been through," Larnell Bruce Sr. said.
Senate Bill 577 would remove the requirement that a bias crime in the first degree has to be committed by two or more people. It would also establish a hate crimes hotline for victims to call, and would change how hate crimes are reported and tracked.
The bill is currently in front of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, but it is at risk of dying.
The Bruce family, along with several national organizations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and Senator Jeff Merkley, are now working to keep that from happening. CAIR and several national organizations sent a letter urging support for the bill.
Merkley tweeted, saying in part, "In August 2016, a young man in my state was murdered in what would become the first hate crime conviction in Oregon in more than 30 years. But the sentencing made clear how outdated the hate crime statutes in Oregon and many other states really are."
The parents said they won't give up.
"When something like this happens, you want your loved one to not be lost in vain and this most certainly would help my family heal, as far as, feeling like he didn't lose his life in vain," Larnell Bruce explained.
The Bruce family also started a foundation in their son’s name.
Aside from getting this bill passed, they hope to help other hate crime victims through the difficult process. They know how tough it can be and want to be a resource for people.