Before digging into this piece, read part one: A Brief Introduction of Indiana Hate Crime Bills.
Deconstructing Hate and Oversimplified Rhetoric
To better understand substantiation behind hate crime legislation, it is important to analyze the social construction of the word hate and similar rhetoric in contemporary discourse. Submit for a brief moment to a binary thought, to explore how the meanings of oversimplified words dynamically change over time and misapplication bears far-reaching political implications regardless of intent.
“Resist hate,” a liberal slogan gaining popularity after last year’s presidential election and conservative dog-whistles like “they hate our country” serve as ideological mirrors of one another, more similar than Democrats and Republicans alike might notice and acknowledge. What hate arguably represents to political factions of our two-party system are hardly distinguishable to opposing groups on either side of the aisle. Hate as a general descriptor fails to account and correct for historical violence and power structures functioning on the backs of marginalized people, the very people bias crime laws were and are best intended to protect. Instead, the word hate is assigned to extremist groups and lone wolf perpetrators to absolve the greater good of contributing to and benefiting from socially conditioned superiority, normalizing hatred and structural violence that enable and fuel what we believe are hate crimes.
Hate crimes are considered deliberate bodily harm or property damage targeting a specific groups of people sharing one or more identities, a decontextualized concept armed with a broad definition to serve as a catch-all for crimes popularly considered against humanity in forty-five states. This definition rests on a core ideal of neo/liberalism, condemning arbitrarily determined values without naming and confronting systemic oppression that shape those communally shared values and the cultural-political fabric of this country.
Debunking Colorblind Data
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program collects data points “regarding criminal offenses that were motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, gender, gender identity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.” These categories are not inherently wrong as the data itself is important to gather for research purposes and informed political advocacy.
The UCR promotes objectivity but legitimizes the illusion of anti-whiteness, derailing necessary discourse around white superiority and dominance in every institution in the U.S. However, the data illustrates the reality of hate crime victims and offenders based on racial identity. Of over 3,489 race-based incidents reported in 2016, 50% were motivated by anti-black bias, with half of the crimes committed by white offenders falling into three main categories: aggravated assault, simple assault, and intimidation.
This reveals a false premise that conflates white and black offenders under the guise of remaking racism as racial bias stripped of collective racialized power. It perpetuates the thoroughly debunked idea that racism “works both ways” within a law enforcement and criminal justice system built on white supremacy and anti-blackness in politic and practice.
Expanding Protected Classes
In an apparent attempt at bipartisan appeal, both Senators Greg Taylor and Sue Glick included police officers under protected classes, codified as public safety officials. The glaring difference between other categories and police officers is discrimination protections are typically afforded on the basis of identity and circumstance, not occupation. “Blue Lives Matter,” the political motivation behind the recent push to mark police officers as a legally protected class is a direct and antagonistic response to Black Lives Matter and the Movement for Black Lives, organizing coalitions seeking justice on behalf of black people and others extrajudicially beaten or killed by police nationwide, usually without consequence.
Philip Stinson, associate professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University, led an extensive research project to analyze arrest and conviction rates for murder or manslaughter among police officers on duty. Over the course of a 12 year timespan between 2005 and Spring 2017, 80 officers were arrested and the conviction rate stands at just 35%. For reference, the number of state and local police officers nationwide hovers between 850,000 and 950,000. According to recent studies, about 1,000 people are killed every year by police officers in on-duty shootings. The data is abundantly clear: Though not formally codified as a protected class, police officers are legally well-protected.
Pitfalls of Vague Legislation
The Indiana GOP Caucus is infamous for often utilizing the political tactic of codifying vague language in life-altering legislation, opening the door to legal misinterpretations by design. Look no further than Indiana’s feticide law, originally intended to apply an additional charge and potential penalty enhancements to murder or aggravated assault of a pregnant person resulting in the death of a preterm fetus. Instead, the law has been used to primarily criminalize women of color and the immigrant community for accessing elective abortion or experiencing miscarriage and other unintended pregnancy outcomes — Bei Bei Shuai and Purvi Patel can attest.
During the last legislative session, Sen. Mike Delph tanked Sen. Glick’s hate crime bill by attaching an amendment to delete protected classes from the code in favor of criminalizing any act of harm against persons or property based on “characteristic, belief, practice, (and) association.” Though well-intended, hate crime laws put marginalized people and communities at risk of more harm by the state than provided legal protection. Removing clear specificity further obscures protected classes and their limited necessity and gives room for legal loopholes that disproportionately endanger people hate crime laws are supposedly meant to defend.
A Political Dilemma
Liberalism is not an adequate response to compounded inequity on multiple fronts that breeds generational harm and cultures of systemic violence. Signing the condemnation of hate into state law is a reckless cause without analyzing, understanding, and addressing power dynamics informed and impacted by oppression, by identity, by history unfolding in the present political environment.
Organizer and scholar Kay Whitlock contends in Reconsidering Hate, “The harm and injustices summed up as ‘structural violence’ are experienced psychologically, physically, economically, and socially. This impacts are cumulative over time. They cannot simply be policed, prosecuted, and punished away.” The legal system as we know it cannot and will not pass or enforce legislation to address structural violence or correct a deeply unjust power differential it created and continues to sustain on. Without a hate crime law, Hoosiers have an unprecedented opportunity to imagine otherwise ways of responding to injustice.