DECATUR, Ga. — Ronald ‘Trey’ Peters was walking to the MARTA station near his home to head to work on June 4 as he had many days in the past. But, just before 9 a.m., he was gunned down on Orchard Circle in Decatur.
“I was one of the first people who found out that it happened in real-time, maybe 30 minutes after,” said Kelly Nelson.
Peters worked for Nelson at her agency, LED Enterprise and acted as a personal assistant.
“He did makeup and hair and was a seamstress and could cook. He was an actor and a singer,” she said. “This feels like a loss of one of my own children.”
Peters was a gay man in an interracial relationship at the time of his death. The day after he was killed, Nelson learned not only did he die in a horrific way, but the shooting was possibly hate-motivated.
"The driver was standing over him, jerked the bag and yelling obscene and gay slurs at him, and shot him in the chest point blank,” said Kevin Pickering, a neighbor who witnessed the shooting and called 911.
When Nelson heard this, she started looking into ways to make sure his death would be prosecuted as a hate crime. But she soon learned that wouldn’t be easy in the state of Georgia.
“I had no clue,” said Nelson.
“Every time I talk to people, they go, 'Wait, what? Georgia doesn’t have a hate crime bill?’ I think people are very surprised,” said Allison Padilla-Goodman.
Serving as the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, Padilla-Goodman met Nelson after Trey’s death when Nelson began searching for options to have a hate crime bill established in the state.
The ADL is working to have HB426 pushed through the Georgia legislature. The bill would make crimes motivated by hate towards a person’s gender, race or sexual orientation illegal in the state.
“Hate crimes are a major issue nationwide. Last year’s data from the FBI on hate crimes showed a 17 percent increase,” Padilla-Goodman explained.
That same data, Padilla-Goodman referenced, also shows the number of crimes based on sexual orientation rose each year from 2014 to 2017, when 1,130 incidents were reported. Of those crimes, a majority targeted gay men.
Georgia is one of four states without a hate crime statute. HB426 has bipartisan support and passed the house in 2019. It’s currently sitting in a Senate subcommittee and will be taken back up in January of 2020.
Although previous efforts to have a hate crime bill established in Georgia have failed, Padilla-Goodman thinks HB426 has the best chance of success.
“This is a moment where I think people understand that hate crimes need protecting and addressing,” she said. “Crimes can impact individuals but hate crimes can impact entire communities.”
Police continue to look for three people possibly connected to the death of Peters. While that happens, Nelson is dedicating herself to educating others and working with the ADL to see HB426 is passed in the coming year.
“If I knew what Trey would want, he would want for people to come together,” said Nelson. “He was a kind person who opened his heart to everyone. (He wanted) dialogue between people who don’t share the same politics or outlook. He would want this to be a moment to bring everyone together.”