Biased against waiting for bias legislation

A horrible thing happened in Chicago last week. Many of us saw the video of four young African American people terrorizing a young, white and disabled man. We saw it because these criminals broadcasted it on Facebook Live in real time. They were texting the victim’s family during the assault. It is one of the more disturbing things I have seen.

It was a bias crime.

What makes it a bias crime is not just that the perpetrators in the incident were of a different race than the victim. It’s not just because the victim has a developmental disability. And finally it is not because of any political affiliation of anyone involved.

It is a bias crime because of the message it sent in the act’s commission. That message was that members of a few distinct demographics should be fearful. Specifically, “white people,” “Trump voters,” and the disabled were threatened by this act and should fear the real possibility of this sort of treatment.

And it also was an act of terrorism.

What is terrorism? Dictionary.com defines terrorism as “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.” The Facebook Live assault’s purpose was clearly designed to intimidate.

Virtually all policy makers believe that terrorism is abhorrent and should not only be fought, but eliminated from the planet. For many, terrorism is easy to identify. Often it is when some violent act is committed by someone of Islamic faith, or by someone whose national origin is among a few specific places where terrorism is commonly harbored. If there is any remote way to label the act as anti-American, then it is labeled an act of terrorism.

So why the reluctance in Indiana to pass a law establishing a policy of intolerance for bias crimes? Why is Indiana one of only five states with no law of any kind addressing the issue?

Bluntly, too many members of the Indiana General Assembly believe that creating legislation on the matter only helps those in the LGBT community, or other minority communities. Therefore it must “cost” their constituency something for which they don’t want to pay. Secondarily, many believe that defining an act based on its motivation creates a “thought crime” category, which seems to jeopardize a freedom Americans hold dear.

Both of these reasons are mistaken. First, a bias crime can be committed against anyone, including white, Christian men. In 2015, the FBI reported that just over ten percent of all bias crimes were committed against whites. Again, the victim of the Facebook Live assault was white.

Next, the worry about the “thought police” regretfully focuses on the motivation of the criminal, and not the harm that the actual crime does and to whom. For example, the recent vandalizing of a Jewish headstone with a spray painted anti-Semitic message was a crime against property and the owner of it. But the victim of that crime was also the local Jewish community at large as an act of intimidation.

In Indiana, we are pretending that the intimidation factor does not exist. We need to stop doing that.

I worry that if the Facebook Live crime had happened in Terre Haute or Evansville, the local communities would have expected an elevated response to it by its judicial system. A clear policy addressing that reasonable expectation from our legislature is currently missing. And it is missing for no good reason.

Passing reasonable bias crime legislation this year should not be confused with some sort of concession to groups the current political makeup does not represent. Fighting against it cannot rationally be defined as protecting, well, anything. Nothing is being sacrificed here by its passage.

Senator Sue Glick, R-LaGrange is filing a bill this year to address it. She filed Senate Bill 220 last session, which passed the Senate on a 34-16 vote and then died in the House. Senator Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis has made this a priority again this year and will be working with Glick on it. In the House, Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis has already filed House Bill 1066, and will continue his advocacy on the issue.

This is something Republicans and Democrats can do together. There is no scary price tag attached to it. There is no constituency that is making some sort of intolerable sacrifice.

I hope the book gets thrown at the group of four in Chicago. The whole book. And I hope someday that our “book” is as complete as 45 other states in America, clearly stating that Hoosiers won’t stay silent on bias crimes anymore.