When Pulitzer spoke of a "cynical, mercenary, demagogic press," he must have had someone like Star editorial writer RiShawn Biddle in mind. Biddle offered some thoughts today about what is before the Indiana legislature. Speaking of one piece of legislation, HB 1459, offers these comments:
Can the supporters of the hate crimes penalities proposed in House Bill 1459 muster up evidence that gays are being murdered or assaulted at any higher rate than the rest of the population? More importantly, doesn't the laws currently on the books against murder, assault and the like already assure that those committting hate crimes will spend time in prison anyway?
If Biddle were writing propaganda for one of those religious right organizations, which often flaunts its influence in the legislature to craft laws which discriminate against minority groups like gays and lesbians, his comments would be standard fare. Unfortunately, they are words spoken by a man who is responsible for helping to formulate the Star's editorial positions. Even worse, they were words deliberately chosen by the writer to mislead the Star's readers.
Mr. Biddle suggests the legislation is being proposed because "gays are being murdered or assaulted at [a] higher rate than the rest of the population." As Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi addressed the Star's own editorial board on which Biddle sits just a week ago about the legislation's purpose, Biddle should know better, or at least bother to pick up a copy of the bill and actually read it for himself before spouting off inaccurate information about it.
Contrary to Biddle's assertion, the bill does more than allow for tougher punishments for offenders who commit crimes against a person because of their sexual orientation. It makes commission of a crime because of the color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex of the victim an aggravating circumstance that may be considered by a judge when the judge imposes a sentence for the crime. All but five states in the nation have a law similar to what is proposed by HB 1459.
The law's purpose is very simple: to combat crimes which are the direct result of a divide that exists between groups in society. Opponents always try to make the argument that such laws create "special protection" for certain groups. This is simply a false characterization of these laws. They are focused solely on the motivations of the offender, and they do not specify the race, sexual orientation, or religion of the victims. And to that latter point, they protect everyone equally.
What a hate crime law says to our citizens is that we aren't going to treat a hate crime as equal in harm to their parallel crimes. A person can commit criminal mischief by vandalizing your property on Halloween night, and a person can vandalize your property by spray-painting hate messages on your home because of your race, religion or sexual orientation. While the crime actually committed may be the same, the motivating factor behind the hate crime causes far more harm to both the victim and the neighborhood.
What HB 1459 does not do is create a separate crime. It merely adds these factors to a long list of aggravating factors the legislature has already decided in past years warrant consideration by a judge for a tougher sentence. For example, the law permits a harsher sentence if an offender committed a crime against a child, mentally handicapped person or a senior citizen, or if the offender has a prior criminal record. By contrast, this bill does not do what the legislature did last year in enacting a new law to create a felony offense for engaging in disorderly conduct within 500 feet of a funeral.
HB 1459 is also not premised on a belief that certain crimes are committed against members of a particular group in a higher percentage. Do such crimes happen? Of course, and if Biddle bothered to read the pages of his own newspaper he would know this. Brizzi's office just last year prosecuted several individuals who burned down homes on the city's near-southside because they feared they were going to be purchased by African-American families. In Terre Haute this past summer, an African-American family awoke to find the letters "KKK" burned into their front lawn. This blog detailed how armed robbers tortured and beat two Indianapolis men in their home a few years ago because the offenders believed they were gay.
These are all things Biddle could have learned if he had bothered to listen to Brizzi's presentation to the Star's editorial board, or if he had picked up a copy of the bill and performed a little research for gathering news information like a journalist is supposed to do. Instead of choosing to inform the Star's readers, he chose to engage in the cynical demogoguery Pulitzer warned against.
UPDATE: Biddle is now attempting to dig himself out of the hole he dug for himself. Click here to see for yourself. He continues to make misrepresentations about HB 1459, but I've learned from past experience that Biddle never admits to a mistake and believes he's smarter than anyone else in the room so I won't waste any more of my time on him.