CHICAGO (CBS) – Indiana is one of just five states in the country without a law that specifically addresses hate crimes, but lawmakers in Indiana are pushing to change that.
Hate crimes are on the rise in the United States. The FBI says hate crimes were up 17 percent in 2017 compared to 2016, and that’s without any data from Indianapolis or Evansville, two of the top 10 largest metro areas that failed to report.
The Southern Poverty Law Center currently identifies 31 groups in the state that it considers “hate groups.”
Hate crimes are treated very differently on the Indiana side of the state line versus the Illinois side.
A horrifying crime live-streamed on Facebook from Chicago’s West Side of four people abusing a mentally disabled man led to four arrests on kidnapping and hate crime charges.
Indiana State Sen. Mike Bohacek (R- District 8) was astonished to learn that in Indiana the offenders could not have been charged with a hate crime at the state level. And for him, the crime was personal.
“I’m sensitive to it,” he said. “I do have a daughter with Down syndrome, so I wanted to make sure that the right protections were available. And I was really kind of shocked that there wasn’t any real specific language for an aggravated circumstances for bias crimes.”
The bill he co-authored is at least the fourth attempt in recent years to pass a law that gives judges the power to assign tougher penalties for crimes motivated by bias or hate.
“You’re basically giving it a kind of a kicker that enhances the penalty that that person will suffer,” said Lonnie Nasatir, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League.
Nesatir said an incident at a synagogue in Carmel over the summer opened the eyes of many Hoosiers. Police caught the offenders who allegedly defaced the synagogue with swastikas and set a fire, but the case had to be handed over to the feds.
“They don’t have the adequate laws on the books in Indiana to handle it,” Nesatir said.
This year proponents of the bill, which would include gender identity protections, are cautiously optimistic that it will finally pass.
For the first time in recent years, Indiana’s Governor is voicing support for the measure, saying he’s dedicated to signing it into law in 2019.