Hoosier Hospitality: Ignorance Fuels Need for Hate Crime Laws
Hoosier Hospitality: Ignorance Fuels Need for Hate Crime Laws

JURIST Guest Columnist Kendra Julian of Valparaiso University School of Law, Class of 2017, discusses the need for states to enact hate crime legislation…We don’t like you. Get out. You don’t belong. We’re superior to you. These phrases all lead to a common message—a message of fear and intimidation. Unfortunately, Indiana, along with Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Wyoming, remains one of five states without hate crime laws.

Hate crimes consist of the violence of intolerance and prejudice, intended to hurt and intimidate someone because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religious, sexual orientation or disability. However, it was not until 2009 that the federal hate crime laws included acts against gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability. According to Miriam Zeidman, Midwest civil rights counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, “Hate crimes are meant to send a message of intimidation to the individual and to the community. We need to be able to send counter-messages…ones of equality, ones that say the community won’t tolerate hate crimes.”

For the past 15 years, Indiana State Representative, Gregory Porter has advocated for Indiana legislation to stiffen penalties for crimes motivated by biases. While he has consistently failed to pass previous motions, he is now being supported by Marion County Prosecutor, Terry Curry, the Indianapolis Urban League, and several religious groups, including the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council. According to Porter, “We have a coalition of individuals saying enough is enough…these are issues we need to address.” As crime, hate and violence continues to escalate in our country, Indiana must “catch-up” by implementing stiffer sentences for hate crimes because these types of crimes are the most likely to create or exacerbate tensions, which can trigger larger community-wide racial conflict, civil disturbances and even riots. The timely discussion can be aided by the attention on expanding anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Hoosiers, the church shooting [JURIST report] in Charleston, South Carolina, the arrest of an Indiana University student accused of shouting “white power” as he attacked a Muslim woman, a Texan accused of murdering best friend’s boyfriend and most recently the Planned Parenthood Shooting.

The future of imposing state hate crime laws could allow a judge to impose stiffer penalties when a crime is proved to be motivated by bias. Therefore, when a murder has been committed, a harsher sentence could be imposed contingent upon the intent of the murderer. For example, David James Brown, a 22-year-old Texas man, was arrested on November 17, 2015, in Indiana for allegedly kidnapping and killing a gay man in Texas. While investigators are attempting to determine a potential motive, the victim’s parents believe the murder was a hate crime. The disturbing fact of this case is that Brown was reported to be best friends with the victim’s boyfriend. Under Texas Penal Code Section 12.47, the sentencing for a crime involving bias or prejudice, other than a First Degree Felony or a Class A Misdemeanor, is increased to the next highest category of offense, with a minimum increased term of 180 days of confinement. Therefore, Brown is being charged with Capital Murder rather than First Degree Murder making him eligible for the death penalty. Under Article 42.014 of the Texas Penal Code, the judge may also require the defendant to attend an educational program on tolerance. Chapter 12 of the Texas Penal Code provides that a Texas First Degree Felony is punishable by life imprisonment for not more than 99 years or less than 5 years and a fine not to exceed $10,000. Thus, states lacking state hate crime laws are allowing criminals motivated by biases to not serve their maximum sentence. Rather, the state virtually pardons the motive of the crime and allows ignorance to be acceptable amongst those wrong-doers.

Hate crimes include the use of explosives, arson, weapons, vandalism, physical violence and verbal threats of violence to instill fear in their victims, leaving them vulnerable to more attacks and feeling alienated, helpless, suspicious and fearful. Conversely, others may become frustrated and angry if they believe the local government and other groups in the community will not protect them. When perpetrators of hate are not prosecuted as criminals and their acts not publicly condemned, their crimes can weaken even those communities with the healthiest race relations. For example, the recent Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado Springs has been called a hate crime by presidential candidate Ben Carson, while witnesses say the gunman was motivated by his opposition to abortion. Currently, it is unclear whether the shooting was intended to send an ideological message; however, speculations continue to mount over what motivated the attack and how authorities will prosecute the suspect. Nevertheless, hate crimes ultimately put cities, towns, states and the nation at risk of serious social and economic consequences. Instantaneous costs of arising racial and civil conflicts consist of longer hours resulting in overtime for police officers, fire-fighters, doctors, and medical personnel, an increase in injury or death, loss of businesses and residential property and vehicle and equipment damage. Over time, recovery can be hindered by a decline in property values, due to lower tax revenues, scarcity of funds for rebuilding, and increased insurance rates. Unfortunately, both businesses and residential housing are left abandoned in neighborhoods due to the hate crimes committed which leaves empty buildings to attract higher rates of crime. The quality of education also declines in these areas due to the loss of tax revenue. A municipality is often left with no choice but to cut services, raise taxes or leave the area in its post-riot condition until the market forces the supply and demand of an area to rebuild. Thus, hate crime laws should be deterring criminals rather than allowing individuals or groups to continue to terrorize communities by pardoning hate, intimidation and fear.

Supporters of hate crime legislation should keep in mind an individual found guilty of a capital felony crime, where the state seeks the death penalty, is punishable by life imprisonment without parole or by death. By allowing stricter punishment, it could help to deter future hate crimes. While Indiana currently requires law enforcement agencies to report bias-motivated crimes to the state, they still go unreported due to the victim’s fear of intimidation, embarrassment or distrust of law enforcement. Furthermore, Zeidman encourages communities to address incidents of bias, even when they don’t rise to the level of being crimes. “The community can criticize the prejudiced message” to prevent biases from being normalized and acts of violence from being accepted.

While there is a lack of awareness and education about hate crimes, the FBI crime statistics report that Indiana logged 75 hate crime incidents of the 5,928 reported across the nation in 2013. Why not tackle the problem head-on before it becomes an epidemic? In a society where social media grants people the anonymity to freely express their biases without consequences, we have made it acceptable for people to say hateful things. “The more it becomes OK,” says Toby Miller, director of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee’s Race and Cultural Relations Leadership Network, “it breeds that next level.” A stand must be taken, ignorance is not the new tolerance, and the purveyors of hate should no longer be a protected class in these five states.

Enacting legislation to pass hate crime laws does not interfere with our first amendment right of free speech by criminalizing our thoughts and or beliefs. Thus, a crime still must be carried out. The legislation would allow for Indiana and the remaining states to hold intolerant criminals with some real accountability. We would be sending the counter-message that we should not fear to be someone we are not to fit into the majority; but rather, we must be accepting of all or pay the ultimate price.

Kendra Julian is a second year law student at Valparaiso University School of Law. She is also a member of the Women’s Association and a teaching assistant.

Suggested citation: Kendra Julian, Hoosier Hospitality: Ignorance Fuels Need for Hate Crime Laws, JURIST – Dateline, Dec. 18, 2015, http://jurist.org/dateline/2015/12/kendra-julian-hate-crime.php.

This article was prepared for publication by Alix Ware, an assistant Editor for JURIST Commentary. Please direct any questions or comments to her at commentary@jurist.org

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