For six consecutive legislative sessions, Indiana lawmakers have unsuccessfully introduced several different versions of hate crime bills. The most recent efforts were led by Democratic Sen. Greg Taylor and Republican Sen. Sue Glick, both authoring two bills each last session to address “bias-motivated crime.” The failed attempts at codifying a hate crime law ended before securing a hearing and after a reading in the Corrections and Criminal Law committee.
In the wake of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 2015, Hoosier constituents launched and led the “Four Words and a Comma” campaign urging legislators to expand the state’s civil rights provisions to include gender identity and sexual orientation. The bill closest to realizing the campaign’s goals added military status and dropped gender identity from protected classes, excluding transgender people entirely. Twenty-seven amendments later, covering local ordinance overrides to religious exemptions to trans inclusion to a full RFRA repeal, the bill died in late January 2017, setting the stage for another round of hate crime legislation. Indiana’s civil rights statute currently outlaws discrimination in the areas of housing, employment, and public accommodation on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, ancestry, off-duty tobacco use, sealed and expunged arrest or conviction records, physical and mental disability, and age.
The first of Sen. Taylor’s bills proposed mandatory bias crime training and reporting for law enforcement officers. FBI crime data reveals despite federal guidelines, only half of Indiana police departments submit hate crime reports to the agency, leaving unaccounted gaps in bias crime statistics. According to submitted reports in Indiana and nationwide, the consistent majority of hate crimes are determined race-related. However, clearly defined differences between racial biases within the reporting guidelines of the most updated Hate Crime Data Collection Manual is glaringly missing. The egregious omission is a manifestation of white supremacy in the U.S., conflating racial prejudice with the power structure historically and presently holding whiteness as superior. This distortion flattens blatantly racist acts of violence white people commit against people of color beyond distinction.
Sen. Taylor’s second bill was folded into Sen. Glick’s more popular version in hopes of gleaning further bipartisan support. The bill created a bias crime law tied to protected classes under the civil rights code and explicitly included sexual orientation, gender identity, and public safety officials. The bill defined a crime motivated by bias that causes personal injury or property damage an “aggravated circumstance” worthy of penalty enhancements adjudicated during criminal sentencing, a standard practice utilized by the criminal justice system disproportionately affecting identity groups hate crime laws are inadequately designed to champion. Backed by an influential GOP contingent, Republican Sen. Mike Delph attached an amendment deleting protected classes in favor of criminalizing any act of harm against persons or property based on “characteristic, belief, practice, (and) association,” ambiguous language gutting the original provisions. The heavily modified bill reportedly earned considerable support among ultra conservative lawmakers. Sen. Glick subsequently chose to pull the bill before full debate on the Senate floor, blocking a passable hate crime law sans protected classes altogether.
A few weeks ago, white nationalists descended upon Charlottesville, VA to protest removal of a Confederate statue bearing the likeness of Robert E. Lee. The harmful and lethal results of the white supremacist attack ignited conversation and political action nationwide and in Hoosierland, about our own Confederate effigies still standing, an Indiana chapter of the Ku Klux Klan with a long and painful history, and an infamous absence of a hate crime law. Energized by loudly celebrated and disavowed displays of overt, bare-faced racism, Sen. Taylor and other state legislators are reviving hopes to finally enjoin Indiana and the U.S. state majority with some form of bias crime laws. The political project indicates liberal and conservative interest in passing hate crime legislation in Indiana is historically ill-informed, and worse — political grandstanding. Indiana is one of five states in the country lacking hate crime legislation on the books, and Hoosiers should consider the case for remaining without.