For far too long, Indiana has been among a short list of states that have not made the appropriate and essential move of legislating a legitimate bias crimes bill. We have communities full of all kinds of people with varied backgrounds that all share the same commonality of wanting to live peacefully while raising families and contributing to the communities that we love without the fear of being attacked, or worse, simply because of who we are or what we believe in. At the very least, we want a law that gives our judicial system the ability to deter and aggressively punish those who would intimidate, do harm, or even kill anyone based on one’s race or sexual orientation or religious belief. People should not have to live with the fear of potentially being harmed just because of what makes them who they are.
Our legislators have dodged and dismissed this issue for years, but why? I have said this before, and I maintain this: The representatives that do not support a full-throated hate crimes bill send the message that the most vulnerable and susceptible to hate crimes do not matter. It is like those segments of our citizenry do not exist, or the plight against them is just made up. Just like many other areas of our country, Indiana has a history of racism and intimidation that has spanned from the birth of our statehood to this year. The Ku Klux Klan of Indiana was thought to be the strongest and most powerful sects of the national organization in the 1920s. They terrorized African-Americans, Jews and Catholics. In 2018, we witnessed Nazi-intimidating vandalism of a Jewish synagogue in Carmel. When certain groups of people see nooses hanging or swastikas plastered in plain sight, particular feelings of fear and subjugation are conjured up within those people. Can you imagine living through moments like that? The truth is there are members of our communities who live through moments like that at different levels almost daily.
Those feelings are real, not made up. The groups that experience those feelings do matter. Not recognizing that goes against who we are. Hoosiers pride themselves as being accepting of others. We look out for each other, try to help one another and want peaceful neighborhoods where we all can raise our families. Our communities value diversity and inclusion; we need our legislature to do the same thing. Indiana suffers when we do not promote these values. Our businesses are hindered in recruiting. Indiana universities may start to see their enrollments of non-resident students drop. The state that boasts that it is the “crossroads of America” and is always actively courting major conventions and sporting events and major international companies to call Indiana home should do everything that it can to make every person who lives or visits here feel safe.
We all matter, but, unfortunately, there are negative forces that have infiltrated our society that target specific groups. These specific groups need meaningful legislative protection from hatred and bias crimes. Our nation has made strides but not every jurisdiction has made the worthwhile step of bias-crimes protection. Indiana remains one of those on that shameful and short list. We deserve better and this type of legislation is sorely overdue. We can do better.
Ronnie Saunders, Westfield