“Hate crimes are different from other crimes. They strike at the heart of one’s identity- they strike at our sense of self, our sense of belonging. The end result is loss- loss of trust, loss of dignity, and in the worst case, loss of life.-
-Former FBI Director James Comey
When a person targets a victim on the basis of particular characteristics, but not limited to, one’s religious faith, race, nation of origin or sexual orientation, they harm both the victim and the wider community. This type of hate is at odds with the values of our state, nation and global community. As Indiana has come under national scrutiny as one of only five states (AK, GA SC and WY) without a Hate Crimes Law we believe there are clear indications that the Indiana General Assembly is finally ready to take legislative action.
Why do we need a Hate Crimes Law? Simply put, hate crimes happen. According to the FBI, from 2008- 2015 more than 400 hate crimes were reported. This figure is likely to be much higher as several cities, including Indianapolis, failed to report for multiple years. From these figures we note that the two most commonly reported motivators were race and religion. It is also important to remember that the federal government has a very limited capacity to prosecute hate crimes. In 1993 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Mitchell v. Wisconsin that hate crimes statutes were constitutional and in no way limited free speech or religious expression.
But under current Indiana law, can’t a judge take motives such as “hate” into consideration during the sentencing phase of a prosecution? Yes, but without a clear reference to motivation in statute this leaves the sentence open to appeal. While Indiana already has eleven specific aggravating circumstances, none address bias motivators. As the General Assembly has failed to enact hate crimes legislation in previous sessions, judges cannot help but interpret this inaction as an indication that bias should not be taken into account when considering sentencing.
What is the outlook from a legislative perspective in 2018? In short- promising. For the first time- Republican and Democrat Leadership in both chambers have voiced support for passing a hate crimes bill. IFCL has spent much of the summer in conversation with lawmakers urging them to support a bill that has strong protections for all groups. But perhaps even more importantly we have welcomed their suggestions and concerns. Our goal is to not simply pass any bill, but persuade strong majorities in both chambers to pass a bill with strong protections for all victims.
We ask for your support and assistance with a hate crimes bill- SB418(Glick). Please contact your House and Senate members and ask them to support SB418 We will be back with regular updates on the legislation and more information as to how in other ways you might specifically help with our efforts.