Time to pass law about hate crimes

Only five states still don’t have a law that allows stiffer penalties for crimes prompted by bias.

Indiana doesn’t have a hate crime law, but a bill that has already passed the Indiana State Senate could and should change that.

The Indiana House of Representatives needs to pass it. Gov. Mike Pence needs to sign it.

Senate Bill 220, sponsored by lawmakers Sen. Susan Glick, R-LaGrange, and Earline Rogers, D-Gary, has moved forward. State Rep. Gregory Porter, D-Indianapolis, has worked for 15 years to get such a bill passed without success.

“This isn’t cutting-edge,” he told The Indianapolis Star. “This is playing catch-up.”

In 45 states, if someone commits a crime, often violent, against someone based on race, religion or even sexual orientation and gender identity, the person convicted could receive a stiffer penalty. In Indiana, there is no such provision.

As Porter said, this isn’t about being progressive. It’s not about whether the civil rights statutes in the state are strong enough. This is whether the criminal statute in the state protects people who become victims of a crime because of what they look like, how they worship, how they choose to live a life.

The law would come into play when a teenager attacks a Muslim woman in Bloomington, a case that’s in the courts in Indiana.

It could come into play if a horrific incident such as the Charleston church shooting happened in the Hoosier state. Coincidentally, South Carolina is one of the other four states without hate crimes laws, along with Georgia, Arkansas and Wyoming.

It could have been a factor in the sentencing for the 1998 murder of Sasezley Richardson in Elkhart County. After Alex Witmer and Jason Powell targeted Richardson in Elkhart because he was black, they shot him and he died three days later. Judge Stephen Platt sentenced Powell to life in prison and Witmer to 85 years for that crime and another robbery.

Platt gave an enhanced sentence but couldn’t act under any hate crime provisions because Indiana had no law.

It still doesn’t, and it’s time for that to change.

Set aside whether you believe Indiana should extend civil rights protections. That discussion continues.

This year in the General Assembly, there is support for a hate crimes law.

It’s past time to have a hate crime bill that gives prosecutors and judges tools to prosecute and sentence people who target others for crimes based on race, religion or sex.