Monday, August 01, 2005
Brizzi Intends to Propose Hate Crimes Legislation
Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi has had a change of heart about hate crime laws which increase penalties for crimes committed against a person or property out of hatred towards a person's race, religion, sexual orientation and other bias motivations. Brizzi recently told the Indiana Lawyer that he "used to think that there was no real difference between a crime that was motivated by racial hatred and a crime motivated by greed or any other kind of motivation . . . [i]f you get hit by a stick it hurts the same." But Brizzi said his views changed as he considered the facts in various cases the Indiana Lawyer reported.
Brizzi told the Indiana Lawyer that hate crimes "have implications that go beyond the individual victim . . . [w]hile the victim will feel individual pain, the implications of that crime are shared by society at large." Brizzi told the Indiana Lawyer, that while his office didn't have statistics available on hate-related crimes his office has prosecuted, he maintained that they are out there. Brizzi said those cases included incidents "where people have been beaten up at bars because of their perceived sexual orientation." Brizzi now intends to propose a state hate crimes law during the 2006 session of the Indiana General Assembly.
The FBI is required to collect data and report annually statistics on bias motivated crimes, including race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity and disability. According to the most recent statistics compiled by the FBI for 2003, crimes motivated by a person's sexual orientation constituted the third highest category of reported bias crimes. Out of the 7,489 bias crimes reported in 2003, 1,239 or 16.5% were committed because of a person's sexual orientation, the vast majority of which were committed against male homosexuals. While Indiana does not have a hate crimes law, the Indiana State Police is required by law to collect data on bias crimes, including those motivated by a person's sexual orientation. According to State Police records for 2004, there were a total of 67 incidents of bias crimes committed in 2004, of which a person's sexual orientation constituted the second highest category. Of the reported incidents, 17 or 25% were motivated by a person's sexual orientation, significantly higher than the national average.
According to data compiled by the Human Rights Campaign, Indiana is one of just 4 states without any hate crimes law, joining Arkansas, South Carolina and Wyoming for this discomforthing distinction. The same data shows that 35 states have hate crime laws covering sexual orientation and/or gender identity, while another17 states have hate crime laws not covering sexual orientation or gender identity. Many of the states in the latter category are either southern or western mountain states.
Indiana finds itself in a class of states with a history of racial and gay bigotry. Many states without hate crime laws were motivated to enact them after the brutal beating death of 21-year old Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, which the offenders admitted to committing because of Shepard's sexual orientation, but not Wyoming or Indiana. Past attempts to pass a hate crimes law in Indiana have been thwarted by Christian fundamentalists represented by groups such as Eric Miller's Advance America, who argue that "special rights" are conferred upon such protected classes when hate crimes are enacted.
It is a courageous move on Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi's part to publicly support a hate crimes law. He has already shown courage by enacting a non-discrimination policy for his own office similar to policies adopted for the State's and City of Indianapolis' workers by Governor Mitch Daniels and Mayor Peterson, respectively. Governor Daniels' has been the target of a hate-filled, lying campaign by the Christian right because of the enactment of his policy, and the State's GOP has made no effort to defend his policy. At the same time, Murphy's Law, as handed down by Marion County GOP chairman, Mike Murphy, instructs all Republican council members on the Indianapolis city-county council to vote against any proposal which would make it illegal to discriminate against persons in employment and housing on the basis of their sexual orientation and identity. If past is prologue, the Republican prosecutor can't count on much support within his own party for his proposal, but then again things might take a change for the better in the Republican Party. Let's hope.