Virginia Attorney General Herring talks combating hate crimes in Norfolk

NORFOLK, Va. - Attorney General Mark Herring believes Charlottesville should've been a wake-up call, but even after the violent rally lawmakers didn't action this year to address hate crimes.

Related: State Police report increase in hate crimes in Virginia 

Now, he's proposing several bills to help address the problem and held a round table discussion with community leaders in Norfolk on Thursday.

Local community leaders participate in Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring's round table discussion on hate crimes

"This is not who we are as a Commonwealth." Herring said. "We've got to pull together and say it's unacceptable and we're going to put a stop to it."

Several people who attended the discussion said they've noticed a change in recent years where minorities don't feel as welcome. Just last month, the FBI released a report saying the number of hate crimes increased by about 36% in Virginia.

"There is definitely an increasing sense of feeling and unwelcome," said M'Hammed Abdous, the president of the Muslim Community of Tidewater.

Abdous recalled how recently a man stared him down inside of a store. "It happens in schools. It happens in grocery stores. It happens even when you're driving. When you are at the stop sign, someone is going to look at you and maybe even some gesture that is inappropriate," Abdous said.

The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in October became a flash point for many religious groups who say they're now thinking about getting armed security. "Our community is feeling unsafe and vulnerable," Abdous said.

Click here for our full coverage on the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting

Herring's ideas include expanding the definition of a hate crime and giving his office more tools to fight back. "This is something that we cannot tolerate in Virginia," he said. "It is essential that leaders at every level - the community, the state, national level - speak out and condemn that kind of hatred and bigotry."