For Yet Another Year, Indiana Does Not Feel That A Hate Crime Law is Justified.Posted on: February 4, 2018, by : Mary Ann Felt
By Mary Ann Felt
Thanks to Indiana Senate Republicans and social conservative lobbying groups, another year will pass without a hate crime law in our state. Indiana is currently one of only FIVE states in the country without any form of hate crime law on the books. Only five states out of 50 and the District of Columbia feel that if someone beats you mercilessly, then drags you behind their pickup truck for 12 miles down a gravel road, then hangs you from a tree, simply because you are Gay or Black or Muslim, it should be sentenced the same as if they commit any other random violent crime.
Why doesn’t Indiana have a hate crime law? It isn’t for lack of effort. For the past several years, Democrat lawmakers have attempted to introduce hate crime legislation in Indiana, to no avail. This year, a Republican made an (watered down) effort to address the matter, and it caused quite the controversy on both sides of the issue, ultimately ending in the bill’s demise in committee, before ever reaching the Senate floor for a vote.
To completely get the “politics” of the situation, you need some background on Indiana government. Indiana is a massively Republican-dominated state. Other than portions of Indianapolis, Bloomington and Gary, the entire state is red. Our State Senate is made up of 41 Republicans and only 9 Democrats. Our State House of Representatives is made up of 70 Republicans and 30 Democrats. Our Executive branch is also Republican-controlled. Republicans have complete control of every aspect of our State Government. Our Attorney General, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Secretary of State, Auditor, Treasurer, and Governor are also all Republican. Other than some scattered mayorships, no democrats hold any control in the State of Indiana whatsoever. In the Senate, the entire Democratic Caucus could decide not to even show up to work and it wouldn’t even have an impact on quorum. Their attendance has absolutely no impact on Senate business. This is potentially why they can’t get a bill heard, let alone passed, in Senate committees. When all of the committee chairmen are Republican, they get to decide whether to even give a hearing to any bills authored by Democrats. And they typically don’t.
This year, Republican Senator Sue Glick from LaGrange, Indiana introduced her version of a bias crimes bill, but the bill was widely misunderstood and arguably meaningless. Even though it gave no actual new or additional authority to judges sentencing hate crimes, it could have at least been considered a step in the right direction. The bill would have required that hate crimes be reported to the FBI, whereas previously there were only reported to the State Police.
The real hate crime bill that would actually make an impact was proposed by Democratic Senator Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) as SB 271, and was never granted a hearing by Republican Senator Mike Young. The bill would have done three things: 1. Add extra sentencing powers by judges if they determine aggravating factors such as race, religion, or sexual orientation are in play, and allow them to add an additional 5 years for felony sentences and 3 years for misdemeanor offenses. 2. Require extensive training for law enforcement on “identifying, responding to and reporting bias motivated crimes,” and 3. Allow victims of hate crimes who suffer injury or property damage to bring forth a civil suit to recover their damages, both physical and punitive.
When asked about reasons the Republicans were so opposed to the idea of passing relevant hate crime legislation, one Democrat legislator stated that some incorrectly assume a hate crime bill would do things like limit a preacher’s ability to preach that homosexuality is a sin, or criminalize thoughts, when the bill does nothing to limit free speech, and only applies when sentencing violent actions.
Senator Glick’s bill, although it technically did nothing, still had opponents.
Conservative Republicans argued that enacting a hate crime bill would create special protected classes that treat victims of similar crimes differently. Other opponents’ sole concerns with the bill are the referencing of sexual orientation and gender identity in the language, as they do not believe those groups deserve legal protection. Another argument that has been made is that since our state legislature is made up of nearly all white males, who are not likely to be victims of hate crimes, that they simply don’t care or place any significance on the issue.
One republican lawyer from Terre Haute named Jim Bopp testified in the committee hearing, to voice opposition to the bill because it would create a “selected list of privileged people” favored by “liberal and corporate elites.” The same lawyer has fought against protections for the LGBT community in the past.
Senator Taylor asked Bopp in the committee hearing, “As public policy-makers, why can’t we say that something is so egregious as to attack someone for a characteristic, that we want as a policy in the state of Indiana to say we will not tolerate it? What is the problem with that, sir?”
In the committee hearing sat the grieving mother of an African American teenager who was brutally beaten unconscious and left lying in a creek in New Haven, Indiana last June.
Three white teenagers left him beaten, with rope burns on his neck after they tried to hang him from a tree. Only one of the offenders was charged, and was sentenced on Jan 22, to 30 days of juvenile detention and a year of probation. Jason Gardner’s family has to deal with the fact that he can’t sleep through the night now. That his older brother, who feels that he should’ve been there, is so upset that he won’t leave the house and stays in his room, and after all of this horror, Jason’s family continues to receive threats. Our state’s law feels that thirty days in detention is sufficient punishment for such a horrendous, hate-motivated crime.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center the number of hate groups in the U.S rose from 892 in 2015 to 917 in 2016 — a three percent increase, and there are 26 organized, active hate groups in Indiana. Indiana ranked 22nd in hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2016 with 78 reported incidents. While not an astronomical number, those were 78 people who were victimized and tormented for no other reason than the color of their skin, the God they choose to worship, or their sexual orientation. Those were 78 people who did not receive adequate justice because their State’s legal system does not protect them.
Violence and damage to others’ property is never acceptable. If these acts are committed solely due to someone’s race, religion or sexual identity, additional punishments should go along with that. It shows bigotry and hatred through violence that is intended to send a message and instill fear within different groups of people. There is data proving that hate crimes are on the rise, in Indiana and nationwide, and there are nearly 150 hate groups existing within our state and our immediate neighboring states. Hate crime legislation would send a message to these emboldened hate groups that while they are free to hate whoever they choose, if they act on that hatred in a violent manner that justice for their victims will be served through the legal system. Adopting tolerant policies such as hate crime legislation is necessary in order to retain and attract people and businesses to Indiana, and potentially keep young professionals from leaving Indiana for a more progressive state. It’s the right thing to do for economic development, and it’s just the right thing to do, period.
Contact your elected officials and tell them if you think that enacting sufficient hate crime legislation is the right thing for Indiana.
Mary Ann Felt is an Indianapolis-based activist, writer, and political nerd who has her finger on the pulse of everything you’ll need to know to mount a proper resistance.