Sasso: Tell legislature to pass hate crimes law

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The Indiana Statehouse, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017.(Photo: Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar)Buy Photo

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Indiana is one of only five states in the country that does not have a bias crimes statute.  When criminals target victims on the basis of immutable characteristics, including but not limited to race, religion, national origin or sexual orientation, they not only harm their victim but threaten the larger community.  A single act terrorizes and frightens an entire group of people.

The legislation being considered by our state legislature in this session (SB 418) will not create a new class of crime, but will simply let judges determine whether there was a bias component to the crime and take that into consideration during sentencing.

You cannot force people to love one another, or even to speak kindly of those they dislike or with whom they disagree.  However, laws can and should hold people accountable to the larger consequences when racial or religious bias turns into violent acts.  This bill doesn’t deal with what people think about others, but what they choose to do to others.

Hate crimes happen.  The top two reported bias motivators in Indiana are race and religion. According to the FBI, from 2008 to 2016, Indiana cities, towns and universities reported over 400 bias crimes, including vandalism and physical attacks.  This past year saw the highest number of such crimes reported since 2010.  The actual number is probably much higher, since Indiana is the fourth worst state in the nation at reporting hate crime statistics to the FBI.

There are many reasons why Indiana should join 45 other states in passing hate crime legislation.  Sending a message about the unacceptability of religious, racial and gender motivated crime is essential for the welfare of our community and for the promotion of nondiscrimination and open-mindedness.  The prejudice and hate that motivate these crimes are anathema to our state and nation’s fundamental democratic values. 

Beyond the endorsement of basic human values, passing a hate crimes law in Indiana will send a powerful message to businesses and potential conventions that our state will not tolerate hate nor discrimination against any group of people.  Indiana’s economic development efforts will benefit by enabling Indiana to attract a diverse workforce and demonstrate a commitment to inclusion and quality of life.  

Often, our young people decide on whether to leave or stay in their home state based on the climate of cultural and ethnic diversity.  We need young Hoosiers to want to remain in Indiana, and we want Indiana to be an attractive option for others to relocate. 

Sen. ohn Ruckelshaus recently wrote: “During my time in the legislature I have learned that business decisions are often influenced by messages sent by the action or inaction of their government.  For example, the Baltimore Colts did not move to Indianapolis just because we had a shiny new stadium that needed a tenant, but rather it was the Maryland state government and the city of Baltimore that were about to change the rules and create an unfriendly business climate that convinced the Colts to leave. .  I believe that passage of a bias crime statute would send the exact message that businesses need to hear about the Hoosier state.”  

There are many in our legislature who are behind this bill (SB 418).  We need to let those who oppose this legislation know what Hoosier hospitality really means.  

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