Hate crimes law beyond overdue

(Anderson) Herald Bulletin

Some assert that a crime is a crime, regardless of the culprit’s intent.

But crimes committed against a person because of skin color, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or other characteristics offend the entire community and threaten others who might be targeted because of bias.

That’s why Indiana, currently one of just five states without a hate crime law, should move to correct the problem next year when the General Assembly convenes.

Just as a murder charge can carry a tougher penalty depending upon the intent of the offender, a hate crime law would enable Indiana courts to impose harsher penalties against those motivated by hate or bias to commit a crime.

While there is no state law against hate crimes, Indiana communities are required to track and report such offenses.

According to the FBI, there were 5,928 hate crimes in the United States in the most recent year for statistics, 2013.

Seventy-five of those incidents were in Indiana.

Most recently, hate crimes in our state are in the news because of an attack at Indiana University, where IU student Triceten Bickford, 19, is alleged to have accosted a Muslim woman, insulted her and tried to remove her headscarf.

Police said the woman was visiting Bloomington and dining outdoors at a restaurant with her husband and 9-year-old daughter.

The woman said Bickford yelled “white power,” “kill the police” and racial comments about black people before grabbing her by the neck and forcing her head down toward the table.

The woman’s husband helped restrain Bickford until police arrived.

Such incidents reinforce a negative stereotype about Indiana — that it is a bastion for bigots.

That stereotype is further encouraged by the state’s lack of a hate crimes law to supplement the federal hate crimes law.

Hate crime bills have been considered in the General Assembly many times over the past two decades, but state lawmakers have never mustered the will to pass a bill into law.

With last spring’s regrettable Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which shamed the Hoosier state, behind us, 2016 would be the perfect time for a hate crimes law to show that Indiana is deeply committed to protecting all people from the worst kind of bigotry.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to dr-editorial@ greenfieldreporter.com.