INDIANAPOLIS — Hate crimes are on the rise across Indiana.
New numbers released by the FBI this week show a spike in hate crimes in the Hoosier state last year.
In 2020, 186 hate crimes were reported to the FBI from across Indiana. That number is more than twice the previous year, but that does not surprise some civil rights advocates.
In a peaceful neighborhood in Lawrence, Shepherd Hoehn was charged and convicted with one of Indiana’s 186 hate crimes last year.
Court records claim the suspect placed a burning cross, swastika and racial slurs facing his neighbors home following a dispute over a tree.
“Hate crimes are real and it’s painful to our community,” said Hiba Alami with the Muslim Advocacy Network.
Hiba believes nationwide protests over civil rights coupled with a divisive election year fueled racial tensions.
The 186 hate crimes reported last year are significantly higher compared to the previous four years.
In 2019 there were 80 crimes reported to the FBI, with 100 in 2018, 97 in 2017 and 79 in 2016.
“Those alarming numbers are telling us something. They’re telling us that hate is on the rise,” said Alami.
The FBI report also details that race was the number one cause of hate crimes with 121 cases, followed by religion with 32 cases and sexual orientation with 22 cases.
Still, experts think the FBI report only scratches the surface.
For example, in late May of last year gunshots shattered the glass door of a mosque on Lafayette road.
The FBI ruled that the shooting was not a hate crime, but without an arrest, the real motive is hard to know.
“Because law enforcement agencies don’t report hate crimes on a regular basis. These numbers are an undercount,” said Alami.
“Approximately 40 percent of hate crimes are not reported to law enforcement,” said David Goldenberg with the Anti-Defamation League.
David Goldenberg hopes the rise in cases spurs states like Indiana to pass stricter hate crime laws.
In 2019 the statehouse approved a law that allows judges to impose longer sentences for crimes motivated by bias, but the bill drew criticism for being too vague.
The ADL would also like to see an increase in agencies taking part in the reporting of hate crimes.
“We have a problem. Even with these large numbers, this is an all-voluntary reporting system,” said Goldenberg.
The FBI numbers are based on data received from 174 of more than 300 law enforcement agencies across the state.
The Marion County prosecutor recently launched a hate crime hotline.
The FBI has also launched a campaign to raise awareness in the community about hate crimes and how to report them to the FBI, while planning to train local and state law enforcement to better document such crimes.
The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.”