March 7, 2014
Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
Shortly after 3 a.m. on Jan. 2, two individuals were arrested for allegedly burning a three-foot-high cross outside an African-American family’s home in Johnson County. Brad Cooper, Johnson County prosecutor, reportedly expressed his frustration that Indiana’s lack of a hate crime law “does tie our hands as prosecutors ... We’re stuck with criminal mischief or misdemeanor intimidation. I don’t think that does justice.” Hate crimes cause unique harm and merit a unique response and tools to address them.
Indiana is an outlier. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have enacted hate crime penalty-enhancement laws, many based on a model statute drafted by the Anti-Defamation League in 1981.
All Americans have a stake in effective responses to violent bigotry. These crimes demand a priority response because of the extraordinary harm they cause to the victim and the victim’s community. Hate crimes occur when a perpetrator targets a victim for crime because of the target’s actual or perceived race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. In the vast majority of these crimes, but for the victim’s personal characteristic, no crime would have been committed at all. These crimes have a very deep, damaging impact on the victim. When a person is targeted for a crime because of his or her race, religion, or other personal characteristic, it does not just injure that person. It harms the entire community of people who share that characteristic, and sends the message that they are not welcome, that they are not safe.
Hate crimes are designed to intimidate the victim and members of the victim’s community, leaving them feeling terrorized, isolated, vulnerable and unprotected by the law. Failure to address this unique type of crime could cause an isolated incident to explode into widespread community tension. These crimes can damage the fabric of our society and fragment communities.
Hate crime laws demonstrate an important commitment to confront and deter criminal activity motivated by prejudice. Hate violence has an especially devastating impact on the community. When hate crimes do occur, we must send an unmistakable message that our society takes them very seriously.
The time is now to make Indiana the 46th state to give our law enforcement partners the tools they need to respond effectively to hate crimes.
Chicago/Upper Midwest Regional Director