Maurer & Nasatir: Legislators ignore rallying cry for hate-crimes law

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DEBATE QDoes Indiana need a hate-crimes law?

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ASadly, once again, a proposed bias-crimes statute failed to make it out of a legislative committee, to the detriment of our citizens and businesses.

Hate and bias crimes occur when a perpetrator targets a victim because of the target’s actual or perceived race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. In the vast majority of these crimes, but for the primary victim’s personal characteristic, no crime would have been committed at all. We say “primary victim” because the wider community and the fabric of our society also fall prey to criminals motivated by hate and bias. The result of a hate crime is that the victim and members of the victim’s community feel terrorized, isolated, vulnerable and unprotected by the law. When hate crimes do occur, we must send an unmistakable message that our society takes them very seriously.

The bill that died in the Legislature this session was an opportunity for Indiana to tell Hoosiers (all of them, despite efforts by some to remove coverage for the LGBTQ community), the country and prospective economic-development opportunities that we are a state that protects its citizens and welcomes all and that we acknowledge the special danger to the fabric of our society posed by criminals that target victims on the basis of immutable characteristics. Senate Bill 418 would have accomplished this by allowing our judges to simply take this into consideration during sentencing.

SB 418 would not have created a new class of crime (it applies merely during sentencing). It would not criminalize thought. It would not stifle free speech (hate speech without aggression or violence remains legal). It would not have been for only special-interest groups (white, black, straight, gay, Christians and Jews have all been victims of hate crimes).

If society’s fabric doesn’t sway you, how about the almighty dollar? Did our legislators not hear the rallying cry of our state’s employers that are trying to retain Hoosier talent and recruit from beyond our borders? The good advice from the folks in economic development trying to win headquarters and land conventions? Remember RFRA! The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2015 has a long shadow, and our state continues to feel the chill from this brutal hit to our reputation and economy. According to Visit Indy, Indianapolis lost more than $60 million in future convention business in the first nine months post-RFRA.

It is past time our great state empowered our judges to impose sentences that appropriately reflect the unique harm done across our community and to our society when these bias crimes are committed. While not in this session, perhaps in a future legislative session, we will seize this opportunity. We will join 45 other states (this is not a partisan issue), we will make a powerful statement against discrimination and toward the value of each of our citizens, and we will begin to again roll out the welcome mat—torched by RFRA—to employers attracted to our vibrant business climate.•

Click here for more Forefront columns.

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Maurer is an Anti-Defamation League board member. Nasatir is regional director of the Anti-Defamation League Upper Midwest Region. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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