Cook: Taking a stand against hate

Posted by: Allison Vanatsky  | Friday, February 15, 2019

For the past several years, there has been an increase in the number of bias-motivated crimes reported throughout the country. Because of these growing numbers, a statewide hate crimes statute is in high demand from businesses and religious groups. In an effort to protect all Hoosiers from criminals who may target them for who they are, I authored House Bill 1020 to increase penalties for these crimes.

Motivation and intent are already considered in criminal trials. A bias crimes bill would add another tool for judges to use when sentencing. This proposal for a new law would not criminalize any speech, no matter how shocking. It is only when the hatred that fuels that speech turns into criminal action, such as assault, that a bias crime law would be applied as an aggravating circumstance and lengthen a criminal sentence.

Hate crimes target specific groups based on real or perceived traits like race, religion, disability, gender identity and sexual orientation. Discrimination targeting these characteristics happens every day. The Indiana Civil Rights Commission received 2,874 cases of discrimination in 2017. Nearly half of the cases were for discrimination based on a disability, one-third were related to race, and the remaining cases dealt with other characteristics such as religion, sex, family status or national origin.

Police departments across Indiana reported nearly 80 hate crime incidents to the FBI in 2016. However, data suggests there were likely more since not every county is required to report this information. Based on data gathered from victims, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics suggests there were likely 35 times as many hate crimes than the reports generated by police. My bill would require consistent reporting of these crimes throughout Indiana.

Not only is passing a hate crimes law the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. Having specific protected groups would help attract economic development from other states and countries. Indiana Forward is a coalition of more than 700 businesses, academic institutions, religious groups and other organizations advocating for the passage of a clear, specific and inclusive hate crimes law. They support including race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, sex, disability, gender identity and sexual orientation as protected characteristics in our state. By having a law that clearly protects specific characteristics of individuals, businesses will know Indiana is a welcoming state.

As only 1 of 5 states without hate crime legislation, I believe it is time for a change. More specifically, Indiana needs a bias crime law with unambiguous protected classes in order to defend Hoosiers who are more likely to be victims of hateful attacks. I have heard from many constituents on this topic as I have refined this bill, and I encourage you to share your thoughts and opinions with me on this matter by emailing me at h32@iga.in.gov or calling at (317) 232-9863.

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State Rep. Tony Cook (R-Cicero) represents House District 32, which includes all of Tipton County and portions of Hamilton, Madison, Delaware, Howard and Grant counties.

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