A bill to establish an Indiana hate crimes law failed in the General Assembly once again when Republicans, who hold the majority, couldn’t agree on the bill’s language and it stalled in the state Senate last week.
So, Indiana remains one of just five states with no hate crimes law on the books. That’s important because it means the state doesn’t acknowledge the need to add a layer of protections for folks who might be targeted for violence because of their race, gender, lifestyle or other factors.
And, in a broader sense, Indiana’s lack of a hate crimes law means that our state will continue to be regarded by many as a backwater where bigotry is tolerated.
One of the primary objections to a hate crimes law in Indiana is the idea that it would create a greater penalty for specific protected classes, such as people who are gay, or minorities or women. These critics say a crime is a crime, regardless of who the victim is.
But the laws of our state and our nation provide for many factors that aggravate or mitigate the punishment for a crime.
The age of the victim, whether the crime was premeditated, and the criminal record of the offender are three such considerations.
So considering the presence of racism or other forms of hatred as an aggravating factor in a crime doesn’t break new ground.
As for the idea of creating protected classes of people whose offenders are punished more harshly, the bill that was presented in the state Senate simply wouldn’t do that.
The language of the bill clearly stipulated that anyone who is targeted because of their race, religion, color, sex, gender identity, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation or ethnicity would be protected.
That means that a mob of black racists who assault a white man would be subject to the hate crimes bill, just as a mob of white racists who attacked a black man would be.
Another objection to a hate crimes law in Indiana is that it would duplicate legal precedent set by Hoosier judges who’ve already considered hate motivation when sentencing criminals.
While court precedent can be powerful, there’s nothing like a law on the books to assure that judges and juries feel confident in their discretion.
Put simply, Indiana needs a hate crimes law. The governor wants it, most of the Republican majority wants it, and Democrats have been clamoring for it for years.
This was the year to get it done. And it didn’t happen.