Push underway to revive language of Indiana hate crime bill

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind - More than a week after a bill to create new hate crimes legislation died at the Indiana Statehouse, Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry joined a diverse group of community leaders hoping to keep the language of the bill alive.

“We all need to ask the question as to why we are only one of five states in the entire country that has not recognized that we should have biased crime legislation,” Curry said.

Senate Bill 439 died in the Indiana Senate in late February, the same day that a bomb threat was called in to the Indianapolis Jewish Community Center. Recent threats at the center were addressed in a news conference held at the Statehouse Wednesday afternoon.

“In recent weeks, our Jewish Community Center here in Indianapolis has received two bomb threats,” said David Sklar, with the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council. “And a synagogue in Evansville had a bullet fired through its window.”

“We as a community and those who visit our buildings and facilities every day are simply on edge,” Sklar said.

The bill, authored by Republican Senator Sue Glick, would have given judges more power to impose harsher sentences for crimes motivated by race, religion, sex, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation. It would also have applied to attacks against law enforcement. Senator Glick said there wasn’t enough support to move her bill forward. She cited amendments sought by fellow GOP Sen. Mike Delph of Carmel that would have gutted the bill.

Opponents of the bill have argued that hate crime laws create special protected classed that treat victims of similar crimes differently.

Prosecutor Curry said Wednesday that Indiana law already allows judges to impose tougher sentences in crimes against children, the elderly and other groups.

“A crime that is motivated by bias because of an individual’s race, because of an individual’s sexual orientation, is not just a crime against that individual victim,” Curry said. “It is a crime against an entire community.”

Recent incidents that could fall under such a hate crime law could include the bomb threats at the Jewish Community Center, anti-gay graffiti painted on a Brown County church, bullets fired at two IMPD headquarters, more gunfire aimed at an IMPD officers car and home, and recent vandalism against police officers in the Whitestown area.

Curry and other supporters of the bill are calling on Indiana lawmakers to revive the language in SB 439 and attach it to other legislation in the second half of the 2017 legislative session.

“Moral people have an obligation to acknowledge and fight social injustice,” said Tony Mason, with the Indianapolis Urban League.

Speaking on behalf of the Indianapolis Sikh community, K.P. Singh argued that education must improve in order for laws to change.

“I don’t believe that in God’s kingdom, and especially in this great blessed land, there should be any room for any hate crime against anyone, period,” Singh said. “We are worthy of respect, honor and dignity. And our institutions must be preserved and protected.”

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