By Curt Smith for the Indianapolis Business Journal
January 9, 2018
Abstract: Hate Crime legislation creates protected class of citizens, where crimes against some people are punished more severely than others. Therefore, assault against a homosexual is punished more severely than the same assault against a person who is not a member of that protected class.
On Thursday, Bob, a young man wearing a rainbow T-shirt and a button saying he is gay and proud, is assaulted by a bigoted bully on the sidewalk. Bob files a police report, and the bully is arrested.
On Friday, Barb, an elderly woman wearing a Trump T-shirt and a button saying Make America Great Again, is attacked by the same bigoted bully on the same sidewalk. She, too, files a police report, and the bully is arrested.
Good news—the aggressive bully is convicted on both charges.
However, if hate-crime law becomes the rule in Indiana, the sentence for attacking the gay man will be years more severe than the same attack on the elderly lady. That is because his crime was motivated by “hate.”
Why, you wisely ask, is Bob deserving of more justice than Barb after both suffered the same harm? The answer from the LGBTQ community is that such an attack, because it is motivated by animus or hate toward the person’s sexual identity, is a worse crime. The elderly lady? Well, politics is rough these days and she knew the risks when she donned the Trump gear. And the bully was convicted of harming her, too, right?
This is the LGBTQ community’s position even though three years of Indiana hate-crime reporting show such bias crimes are rare. Among the approximately 200,000 crimes reported in Indiana in 2016, only 13 sexual-orientation hate crimes were reported. These, of course, could include gays attacking straights or gays attacking gays. In 2015, the number was seven; in 2014, it was five.
We believe it is best to keep the “aggravating” enhancements to criminal sentences to the bare minimum they are today and continue to vest each Indiana judge with the discretion and latitude to make the sentence fit the crime. If successful, this hate-crimes effort would actually reduce a judge’s ability to “throw the book” at an offender in a particularly egregious crime, whatever the motivation.
I hope such arguments will prevail when the Legislature takes this matter up. We have prevailed for several years by educating legislators about the true goals and reminding them judges have the discretion needed to mete out fitting justice.
But I am not so simple-minded as to think this debate will be waged on reason and rational discourse. After all, the other side’s primary argument is that Indiana is one of only five states without hate-crime “enhancements” protecting the LGBTQ community. Of course, Indiana is in rarified air in several other respects. We have the best business climate in the Midwest, some of the lowest taxes in the nation, and a tolerant and welcoming citizenry aptly described by the slogan Hoosier Hospitality.
Let’s agree we need to prosecute all crimes, vigorously and promptly, whatever the motivation (economic victimization, sexual gratification, political violation or lifestyle abnegation). And let’s agree we need our judges and prosecutors, already invested with broad discretion and latitude, to know we all hate all crime.
That’s the right way to hate crime.