INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) – Indiana is one of just five states without a hate crime law. There’s a growing push to change that in the new year.
The Indy Chamber, United Way of Central Indiana and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Indianapolis are among the groups leading the effort, saying it’s not just the right thing to do, it’s also right for economic development.
Part of the effort involves community outreach. Thursday afternoon, the Indy Chamber oversaw a panel discussion hosted by the Kiwanis Club. Panelists talked about what a hate crime law is and why they say it’s needed in Indiana.
David Sklar with the JCRC noted that anti-Jewish hate crimes across the country rose 37% last year. He said the vandalism of a Carmel synagogue last summer the massacre at the Pittsburgh synagogue has “the Jewish community here on edge…we believe a law sill absolutely have tangible effects,” but he said even if it’s only symbolic, “As Jewish Hoosiers we need our state to stand up and make a statement.”
He told the roughly 150 people gathered at the Columbia Club that a hate crime is “a crime committed for no other reason than a person is Jewish or African American, or Christian or Native American…that’s the sole motivating factor behind the crime.”
Indy Chamber President Michael Huber who moderated the discussion said getting a law passed “isn’t just the right thing to do but the right thing for economic development.”
Michael O’Connor, senior director of government affairs for Eli Lilly said his company will lobby hard for a law. He told the crowd opponents “are going to tell you it’s a special protection. It’s not. In the words of our CEO David Ricks, when not everyone is protected than no one is protected.”
Ann Murtlow, president and CEO of United Way of Central Indiana was also part of the panel. While she said United Way is often seen as neutral on most issues, it’s not on this one and in fact, has become a key player in getting a hate crime law passed.
“It’s a human issue, an economic development issue and we all need to worry about that,” she said. “We all have to work on behalf of our community. When we exclude people we weaken the community and when we have disincentives, we limit economic opportunity.”
Huber said he’s encouraged by Governor Eric Holcomb’s repeated calls for a hate crime law. While bills have been proposed over the past few years, they’ve never gone anywhere.
“The governor’s supportive words mean a lot and many different business organizations have come out in support of it,” he said.
Still, Huber and other proponents know getting a law passed won’t easy.
He said the debate isn’t about whether hate crimes are wrong. It’s about whether enhanced penalties for a crime motivated by hate are necessary. Huber and the growing coalition he’s part of will be working to convince lawmakers those enhanced penalties are necessary… As Sklar said to send a message that “hate and bigotry are not welcome.”