ROBERTSON: Hate crimes are on rise; Indiana remains behind the times

March 11, 2017

Hate crimes are on the rise. 

We can see it in the numbers from the Southern Poverty Law Center, and we expect the trend to hold in coming years in the FBI annual numbers. There has been an increase in the number of hate groups and there was a large spike in the number of hate crimes immediately following the election. 

Here are a few incidents from Indiana I can remember off the top of my head: The Indianapolis Jewish Community Center joined dozens of centers around the country receiving a bomb threat; someone shot at a classroom in an Evansville synagogue; an Indianapolis gay bar, Downtown Olly’s, had a man come in and say, “We should shoot this place up like Orlando,” after having called the police hours earlier saying he wanted to shoot up a gay bar.

Nationally, two Indian men were attacked by a man who witnesses say told them, “Get out of my country,” before shooting and killing one, injuring two. His excuse was that he thought they were Iranian. 

Now, I know some in my party might say the increase in hate crimes has nothing to do with President Donald Trump. Racists and hateful people have been everywhere forever, they will say. 

Friends, it is no coincidence that these incidents are and have been on the rise since Trump started his campaign. Racists and hateful people have and will always exist, but it’s not every day that the guy who gave them a platform is now whispering in the president’s ear and sitting on the National Security Council. Make no mistake: These folks are emboldened by President Trump’s rhetoric and the people he has chosen to advise him. 

That is why the action—or lack thereof—on hate-crimes legislation in the Indiana Senate remains so frustrating. Indiana is one of just five states in the country that has not enacted hate-crimes legislation. 

Republican State Sen. Sue Glick authored a very simple hate-crimes bill. Newly elected Republican Sen. John Ruckelshaus added his name to the bill. 

The legislation gives judges the authority to assign stricter penalties for those who participate in crimes committed with the intent to harm or intimidate anindividual based on religion, sex, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation. It also requires law enforcement agencies to report bias-motivated crimes to the FBI. During the committee process, the bill was amended to include crimes knowingly committed against off-duty law enforcement officers as punishable as hate crimes. 

The legislation does not require judges to enforce stricter penalties; it simply gives them the option. 

But when the bill was brought to the full Senate, Sen. Mike Delph proposed to amend the bill and essentially stopped the process. 

It is still possible for the issue to come back in the second half of the legislative session. For this to happen, Hoosiers would need to contact their legislators and express the clear need for this legislation. 

Consider this: The man who allegedly attacked and killed the Indian man in Kansas is currently being investigated for committing a hate crime, as he likely would be in 45 out of 50 states in the nation. But not in Indiana. 

Despite the obvious racial motivation behind this crime, there would be no enhanced penalty available in our state because lawmakers continue to refuse to give judges that flexibility. For reasons that didn’t pass muster in almost every other state, Indiana refuses to take a stand against hate crimes. That’s a shame.•

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