Law needed that criminalizes hateful conduct
Like thousands of my fellow Hoosiers, I was angry and saddened to learn about the hateful graffiti sprayed on a wall outside a Carmel synagogue over the weekend. To members of Congregation Shaarey Tefilla, I offer you my heartfelt support and prayers as you come to grips with this act of malice so cowardly perpetrated at your place of worship.
Beyond extending our compassion and prayer, however, we as a state absolutely must stand up ‘ now ‘ and take action against such despicable conduct.
During the most recent legislative session, I proposed specific language that would hold bad actors accountable for their hateful conduct. I envisioned a law that would significantly increase penalties for a broad range of offenses when perpetrators are shown to have acted ‘with the intent to intimidate or terrorize another person.’ I referred to this conduct as the manifestations of hate. For misdemeanors and low-level felonies, sentencing would include an additional two to six years. For higher-level felonies, sentencing would increase by six to 20 years.
Under current law, the persons who committed this despicable act might be facing merely a misdemeanor charge.’That means they are looking at a maximum penalty of one year in jail and they will never set foot in prison, even if they are found, investigated and convicted.
Under my proposal, this same person or persons ‘ even if convicted only of a misdemeanor ‘ would be looking at an additional penalty of two to six years in prison. And that time would be non-suspendable. My proposal carries with it real penalties and serves to more severely punish those who commit these crimes of hate.
My proposal differs from many other so-called hate-crimes proposals in that it avoids entirely the exercise of separating ‘protected groups’ from ‘non-protected.’ Why should some groups receive greater protection from hateful conduct than others? Designating specific groups to be ‘protected’ necessarily implies the existence of other groups that are not.
Although one might argue that certain groups merit protection over others, this argument oddly contradicts the very essence of equality that such ‘protection’ is intended to ensure. In fact, we should stop making lists of victim groups.’If we are to criminalize hateful conduct, then we cannot condemn hateful conduct against some and ignore hateful conduct against others.
In February, I wrote in an op-ed ‘Burning a cross is not just trespass or mischief. Spray-painting racial epithets is not just vandalism or defacing property. These acts are the very manifestation of hate. They are symbols, historically used, to send a broader message. That message? Violence is on the way! It is a message designed to strike panic and fear. It is a purposeful message to intimidate and terrorize its target.’
Clearly, the Nazi symbols spray-painted on the Carmel synagogue property constitute this very sort of intimidation and terror I had in mind when I wrote those words.
Last year, I enjoyed the wonderful privilege of traveling to Israel. I returned with a greater appreciation of that nation’s culture, heritage and millenniums-old association with the Jewish faith. When modern Israel was created in 1948, many of the nation’s founders were motivated by a desire to restore a place where the Jewish religion was a point of national pride and could be practiced freely. Our desire in America should be for a land in which people of all backgrounds and beliefs may feel safe and secure in exercising their personal liberties, such as religious freedom, without fear of intimidation or terror.
Again, as I wrote in February: ‘Our laws always can and should offer equal protection to all people, from injury, intimidation, threats and property crimes committed by any who would wish to do them harm.’
Our Constitution protects everyone’s right to think, believe and generally speak without fear of prosecution. We are even ‘ or perhaps especially ‘ free to share thoughts that may be unpopular or disagreeable. While our laws, therefore, may never be able to prevent people from harboring hatred for other human beings, they always can and should offer equal protection to all people, from injury, intimidation, threats and property crimes committed by any who would wish to do them harm.
The Indiana General Assembly undoubtedly will be inundated with calls to pass ‘hate crime’ legislation, but let’s hope they avoid passing ‘token’ legislation that is unenforceable or carries little enforcement weight. I stand willing to work with the General Assembly to pass hate-crimes legislation that works and can be supported by all. As evidenced by the weekend’s sad events in Carmel, the time to take action is now.
Editor’s note: Curtis Hill is Indiana’s 43rd attorney general.