Legislature should address hate crimes


It’s time for Indiana to adopt a hate crimes law.

Not that it hasn’t been considered before. In fact, legislation targeting hate crimes died in the General Assembly last session after Republican Sen. Sue Glick, of LaGrange, said there wasn’t enough support to move her bill forward. Glick cited several amendments sought by fellow GOP Sen. Mike Delph, of Carmel, that she said would have gutted the bill.

It was the sixth year in a row such legislation has been rejected and was enough to keep Indiana one of only five states in the country without a hate crimes law.

But times have changed, so much so that some Republicans who have opposed hate-crimes legislation in the past are now open to at least discussing the issue.

“I think it’s time to label what we have now as hate crimes legislation to dispel, really, the misconception that that cannot be considered by a judge in sentencing, because it can be,” Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma (of Indianapolis) said.

The adoption of hate crimes — some call them bias crimes — laws have worried some people who believe such legislation encourages officials to consider someone’s thoughts or beliefs when deciding how to prosecute a crime.

But such laws can be effective if they address not only racial bias but also gender, religion, sexual orientation, age or disability. Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, an attorney and editor of IndyPolitics.org, recently wrote in the Indianapolis Star that the burden would be on the prosecutor to show the defendant either knew or believed the person who was attacked or threatened was a member of one of those protected classes and that was the reason for the assault.

Any new law or amendment to an existing law must also be accompanied by better reporting of hate crime statistics. Knowing how many hate crimes are reported to police give authorities a better understanding of the significance of the issue and what resources are needed to address it.

The FBI collects hate crime statistics from state and local authorities. A 2014 Hate Crime Statistics report found about 6,000 hate crime incidents reported in 2013.

According to a 2015 report from NPR, that’s likely a significant undercount; the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated almost 294,000 hate crimes in the year prior to that, based on victim surveys.

Anyone who regularly follows the news can see the impact anger and hate is having in this country. Giving police and prosecutors another tool to address the crimes sparked by hate is a step in the right direction.

Whether any proposal would provide for additional penalties for crimes based on hate, or it would clarify existing laws that allow judges to consider factors such as hate in sentencing, the legislature would have to decide.

And now is the time for lawmakers to have that debate.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to [email protected].