It's time for action on hate crimes

Pat Boy

A Sept. 11, 2017, report by Stephanie Wang of the The Indianapolis Star said that some people oppose a hate crime law because they believe it would their right violate free speech or thought. But hate crime only applies to other criminal action, as an underlying crime, and not to hate speech.

Jeanine Bell, an Indiana University law professor, says it’s important to recognize both hate symbols and hate-motivated incidents. “A trademark of hate crimes – and hate incidents – is that they send a message of intimidation to both the victim and to the broader community ... One law enforcement officer who was a legendary investigator of hate crimes said that a swastika is a sign to every Jew, everywhere.”

It’s time to do something about hate crimes, but the majority party in our legislature doesn’t seem to think it’s important.

House Bill 1006 proposed changes to corrections and criminal code. All House Republicans supported it. Democrats did not, because they believed it needed to include hate crime legislation. On January 29, 2018, they offered an amendment with changes to the existing bias crime section. It said that “each” police department, not only “a” department, would need to report all hate crimes. Wording for “in whole or in part” for criminal acts would refer to crimes based at least partly on bias. These and other changes failed, with all House Republicans voting against the amendment.

On Jan. 30, Tony Cook of The Indianapolis Star reported on the failed amendment. “Senate Republicans pulled the plug Tuesday on a hate crimes bill.” The amendment failed despite a rise in reported hate crimes in Indiana. This was five months after the violent, white nationalist rally last summer in Charlottesville.

These legislators hid behind closed doors. They used political power to block progress and derail changes to hate-crime legislation. Cook wrote: “Chairman Mike Young decided not to hold a vote after Republicans failed to reach consensus during a private caucus meeting Monday.”

In the end, the original bill passed by 90-0 because it improved the criminal code. The Senate then passed it with no amendments, 50-0, for the same reason. The governor signed it on March 13 and it became Public Law 65.

To our shame, Indiana is one of only five states without a law outlawing hate crimes. For the last three years, Republicans at the Statehouse stood in the way of these bills. Last year, the Jewish Community Center of Indianapolis received bomb threats the same day the hate crime bill died.

Gov. Eric Holcomb now says it’s time for a hate crimes law. This only happened after anti-Semitic graffiti covered a Carmel synagogue. This should be a no-brainer. If we want to attract the best and brightest, we must send a message that they’ll be safe and welcome here.

It’s time for Republicans to go on the record. YOU need to take the time to review the wording and find a way. If 45 other states have seen the need, you must find your voice and, as a party, support a strong hate crimes law. This is not political courage. Two-thirds of Hoosiers support this, while less than one-third of the legislature does. Listen to your constituents. Hoosiers deserve to feel protected and safe under Indiana law. They deserve to know if YOU believe that, too.

It’s time.

Michigan City resident Pat Boy is a City Council member and Democratic candidate for state representative in the 9th District.

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