Advocates push for more comprehensive hate crime law in Indiana – WISH-TV | Indianapolis News | Indiana Weather forecast
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A state legislator said Monday that Indiana’s current hate crimes law does not provide enough guidance for the courts.
Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, said he lobbied for hate crime legislation in the Legislature for 20 years. When lawmakers finally passed such a law in 2019, however, he voted against the final version because he felt it was too vague.
“Yes, we have/don’t have hate crime legislation. We do it, but we don’t,” he said, “because it doesn’t specifically say what it needs to say in terms of providing prosecutors with the tools they need in their toolbox.
Porter’s comments came two days after authorities said a white supremacist shot and killed 10 black people at a supermarket in a predominantly black neighborhood of Buffalo, New York.
Jeannine Bell is a professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law who studies hate crimes and extremism. Bell says it’s hard to say whether hate crime laws can prevent such attacks. She says the real value of laws lies in the boost they give to law enforcement. She gives the example of the burning cross, an act associated with white supremacists but not considered a crime in the traditional sense.
“If someone burns a cross on my lawn and gets punished under the hate crimes law, that’s very helpful,” she said. “Law enforcement officers are encouraged to track down the perpetrator due to hate crime law.”
Indiana’s hate crimes law creates an aggravating circumstance if bias is a motivating factor. The wording reads: “The person committed the offense biased as a result of actual or perceived characteristics, traits, beliefs, practices, associations or other attributes of the victim or group that the court chooses to consider , including but not limited to an attribute described in CI 10-13-3-1.”
The office of House Speaker Todd Huston, a Republican from Fishers, said lawmakers deliberately used broad language to allow the law to be applied to future protected groups or to address future circumstances.
Barbara Bolling-Williams, president of the Indiana State Conference of the NAACP, says Indiana’s hate crimes law is of little use because it provides no guidance on penalties. She says the current law means penalties can vary widely from county to county and even judge to judge.
“We want to know that no matter where a person is charged with committing a crime, that if they are found guilty, that they know and we know what the sentence will be, or that there is will have a sentence,” she said.
Bolling-Williams says the NAACP has been pushing for more specific hate crime laws for years and will do so again when lawmakers return in January. Porter says he’ll likely try to legislate to that end, though he’s unsure whether that would take the form of a standalone bill or an amendment to a related bill.