MICAH CLARK EDITORIAL: Do hate crime laws provide justice for all or for some?

On October 10, 2004, five women and six men were handcuffed, arrested and taken to a Philadelphia jail where they sat for 21 hours before District Attorney Lynne Abraham charged them with “ethnic intimidation” under the state’s hate crime law. What crime did these non-violent offenders, including a 73-year-old African-American grandmother, commit? They peacefully passed out religious literature on public sidewalks during the homosexual OutFest. Penalties for this “crime” could have reached 47 years in prison and $90,000 in fines.

Fortunately, Judge Pamela Dembe dismissed the charges as being without merit. However, this is an example of the duplicitous nature of hate crime laws. In America, we punish people for what they do, not for what they think or believe.

Indiana is being shamed as one of five states without a hate crime law like Pennsylvania’s. There are good reasons why Indiana doesn’t need such a law. First, it isn’t necessary. Since 2003, judges in Indiana have had the ability to enhance a sentence for any crime if a judge chooses.

Second, actions of hate crimes are already illegal in Indiana. What makes a crime a hate crime are the thoughts, motives, or speech of the accused, alone. Do we really want the government to start punishing people for what they believe? Do we want Thought Police?

As the “Philadelphia 11” reveal, hate crime laws show contempt for the moral and religious beliefs of millions of Hoosiers of all races who believe in traditional values. It equated disapproval, (even if expressed peacefully and lovingly), with hate and criminality. This may be why many states have had to deal with hate crime hoaxes carried out for political reasons and media attention. Well-written, and wisely conceived laws are not easily abused or politicized.

Third, hate crime laws are ineffective. Thankfully, actual hate crimes are fairly rare. In 2016, 99.9996% of crimes in Indiana were not “hate crimes.” Still, some supporters say this law is needed to send a message. Well, as Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for ya?” A 2015 state ranking finds that the 15 highest states for hate crimes incidents all have longstanding hate crime laws. Conversely, most of the five states without a hate crime law rank near the bottom in hate crimes. Indiana ranked 31st lowest.

I sympathize with the victims of these crimes. I also believe in “Equal Justice Under Law” etched in stone on the US Supreme Court building. For the last two years, I have supported language that would protect speech and reaffirm our ability to enhance penalties for any crime, not just those on a politically favored victim list written in Indiana’s proposed bills. While this language was supported by Attorney General Curtis Hill, a former prosecutor, the author of SB 418 rejected it and again allowed her bias crime bill to die.

Why would we change our law and not stand up for every victim of a crime? With these listed concerns and this legislative move, I wonder if calls for hate crime laws are only about justice for some.

Micah Clark is the executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana.