The Northwest Indiana Times' Bob Kasarda brings attention to the fact that Indiana is one of only five states in the country without a hate crimes law despite plenty of evidence of bias-motivated crimes. Kasarda writes:
When Valparaiso police learned in October that someone had painted an offensive racial term and posted a cross at a local apartment complex, the department treated the incident as a potential hate crime.
The FBI was called in and steps were taken to address a failure by the responding officer to collect the cross as evidence, Valparaiso police Sgt. Mike Grennes said.
No arrests have been made. But even if someone eventually is apprehended, local officials can go no further with the case as a hate crime.
Indiana is one of only five states in the nation without legislation allowing prosecutors to enhance penalties for bias-motivated crimes, according to Adam Schupack, associate director of the greater Chicago offices of the Anti-Defamation League.
Kasarda explains, "Hate- or bias-motivated crimes are defined at the state and federal levels as offenses committed against a person or property that are motivated by a bias against the victim's race, religion, disability, national origin, ethnic origin or sexual orientation." "Sixteen suspected hate crimes have been reported statewide so far this year, and 51 were reported last year, said 1st Sgt. David Bursten, an Indiana State Police spokesman," Kasarda notes. He points out several hate crimes in the Northwest Indiana region in the past year alone:
-- Six bullet holes were discovered in July in the copper dome of the Michigan City Islamic Center in Pine Township. Doors, windows and a spotlight also were damaged.
-- An obscene racial term was found scrawled in February on the home of a Munster family from India. The month before, the family's vehicle blew up in their driveway.
-- Also in February, a 15-year-old Hobart High School freshman was charged with spray-painting racial epithets and a swastika near the home of a black resident in the city. The resident told police her telephone line also had been cut in the past.
While Indiana has a hate crime reporting law, the law has no teeth to ensure that law enforcement properly report all such incidents. Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi (R) supports the enactment of a hate crimes law. His office assures AI that it's at the top of his legislative agenda this year. His office recently prosecuted a case in Indianapolis where a group of individuals were held responsible for setting fire to a home on the city's near southside out of fear that a black family intended to move into the home--a fear that later turned out be based on a misunderstanding.
An Indiana State Police spokesman questions the need for a hate crimes law. "The proposed hate crime designation will not be any more effective than existing laws in preventing these types of offenses," Bursten said. "Crime is crime," he said. The Anti-Defamation League's Schupack disagrees. "We think it's important government acknowledge these crimes have a disproportionate impact on the community," he said. "The impact is serious enough that officials must resist the temptation to write off these offenses as mere pranks," Schupack said.
Rep. Duane Cheney (D-Portage) tells Kasarda he would support the legislation, but he doesn't think it will have a good chance of passage in a "conservative General Assembly." "I believe we have a duty to send a message that it is morally wrong on its face," he said of hate crimes, "especially in a nation where we claim to be welcoming to all."
Besides Indiana, only Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Wyoming don't have a hate crime law. That's not a distinction that helps Indiana's image in the least bit. Hopefully, Bursten of the Indiana State Police doesn't speak for the Daniels' administration. If the Daniels' administration plans to oppose Brizzi's legislative efforts this year, it's going to have some serious explaining to do.