This article is an example of the need for strong and unambiguous bias crimes legislation. To join our efforts to support this change, visit https://indychamber.com/advocacy/bias-crimes/.
SOUTHERN INDIANA — Jarin Gladstein was out shopping one day in January 2017 when he got an unexpected text from a friend in Scottsburg, where he lives.
The woman had sent a photo of a cemetery headstone in town that had been spray-painted with an anti-semitic message. Was this his family, the friend asked. It was, in fact, Gladstein's grandfather's grave that someone had desecrated. He hurried to the cemetery as quickly as he could.
"I was livid," he said of what happened, his anger still evident over a year later. It wasn't just the hateful message that had been written, but the fact that someone had defaced his grandfather's final resting place that got to him the most.
Gladstein said he doesn't think his family was necessarily targeted, but that the three people who were later charged were hanging out in the cemetery causing trouble. They had defaced two other headstones of non-Jewish families with different words.
"To an extent, it's aimed at somebody," he said. "But I think they were being more ignorant than anything."
Gladstein posted a photo of the gravestone on Facebook, where it got tens of thousands of reactions from people all over the world — most expressing disgust for what had happened, many offering support or help cleaning it up.
"It blew up pretty big," he said. "I was surprised at what it turned into."
He and his family worked to remove the graffiti over the next few days, and even though the message isn't visible to casual passers-by today, he won't forget it.
"It still gets brought up, I can still see a picture of it in my head," he said of the vandalized headstone, which still carries faded marks where once was graffiti.
"It doesn't affect my daily life, but I know it's there...[and] I'm not going to let it hinder my life."
TARGETS OF HATE
Gladstein and his family aren't alone. In 2016 there were 6,121 incidents involving 7,615 individual victims in Indiana, according to Uniform Crime Reporting data. Some incidents happened in Southern Indiana.
In April 2017, a Jeffersonville couple received an anonymous letter addressing their interracial relationship, telling them to “get out.”
The previous month, following the discovery by New Albany residents of fliers promoting white supremacist groups, the New Albany City Council passed a resolution stating that it will not tolerate religious or racial discrimination. The council passed another resolution the same year to denounce white supremacist acts of violence that had taken place in Charlottesville, W.Va.
In July of last year, a Floyds Knobs family had bacon placed in their mailbox by a person who may have believed they were Muslim.
And earlier this year, graffiti that included a racial slur was found in March in New Albany.
These and other incidents nationwide are why some in Indiana are pushing for a hate crime law that would knock Indiana out of the group of just five states — the others are Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Wyoming — without it. The laws generally call for judges to consider the motivation behind bias-based crimes when imposing a sentence.
"I'd vote for a hate crime law," Gladstein said. "It can't do anything but help."
WHAT IS A HATE CRIME?
The FBI defines a hate crime, for the purpose of collecting statistics, as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” Although the Bureau recognizes that hate alone is not a crime, and free speech rights are protected.
Indiana's neighboring states of Kentucky, Illinois and Ohio already have hate crime legislation in place, although the language varies on who is specifically protected.
PAST LEGISLATIVE ATTEMPTS
Such legislation has been introduced before in the Indiana General Assembly, most recently this year with Indiana Senate Bill 418. Authored by Republican Sens. Susan Glick, District 13; John Ruckelhaus, District 30; Mike Bohacek, District 8, and co-authored by Sen. Ron Grooms, R-District 46.
The bill was first read Jan. 10 and referred to the Committee on Corrections and Criminal Law. But it was later pulled from committee when legislators realized that discussion on House amendments to the bill were likely to take longer than the short 50-day legislative session would allow.
"But we got further than we ever have in this past session with passing a ... hate crime bill that was really meaningful," Grooms said.
Grooms said that with the short session, it was not long enough to give the bill the time for discussion he said it requires. Some of the proposed changes had to do with sexual orientation, or with how the bill defines a hate crime.
"Does this include more than sex, race, origin, gender, color?" Grooms said. "Where do you stop with what is considered a hate crime? And other states have struggled with that."
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb expressed his support with legislation to strengthen punishment for bias-motivated crimes following anti-semitic graffiti that was painted on a synagogue in Carmel overnight between July 28 and 29.
“No law can stop evil, but we should be clear that our state stands with the victims and their voices will not be silenced,” a July 30 statement from Holcomb reads, in part. “For that reason, it is my intent that we get something done in this next legislative session, so Indiana can be one of 46 states with hate crimes legislation — not one of five states without it.”
David Sklar, assistant director at the Jewish Community Relations Council based in Indianapolis, has helped lead the charge for affecting bias-based crime legislation in Indiana for the last several years.
“These types of crimes are meant to send messages of hatred and bigotry and intolerance and unwelcomeness,” he said. “And we believe the state just cannot allow these messages to stand.”
He said when something occurs such as the anti-Semitic graffiti at the Carmel synagogue, it affects the wider community.
“That was an incident that was meant to send a message to our entire community that there are folks out there that do not like us and they want us to know that,” he said.
CHALLENGES TO PASSING A LAW
Sklar said some people who don't support such a law might also have misconceptions about how it would be applied.
"There are a lot of folks who argue that we are trying to provide some sort of extra or special protection to certain groups," he said. "And that is not the case. These types of laws are applied equally no matter who you are."
Evan Stoner, founder and organizer of Jeff Pride Fest, sees LGBT protections being the biggest barrier in getting hate crime legislation passed, "because of how hyper-politicized that issue is," he said, adding that part of this may be due to people fearing the unknown.
"If we could all just get everybody in a room together, we would be able to understand each other a lot better and hopefully get a great comprehensive hate crime legislation passed.”
He said he believes that most people In Indiana want to see legislation passed that will protect all Hoosiers, and he appreciates Gov. Holcomb's words that all people are welcome in Indiana, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
"Now I think it's time for both parties to put some action behind those words. I think everyone wants Indiana to be a welcoming place for all, but we need to get this done once and for all — hate is not a Hoosier value."
Grooms, who also co-authored hate crime law legislation that failed to pass in 2015, said many of the amendments and discussion tend to center around sexual identity and orientation aspects of the legislation. He said it's more complicated than to say it's about one thing, such as including gender identity language.
"It's much more than saying 'this person is transgender, they should be treated as a special class,'" he said. "It's because of the transgender issue's impact on so many other pieces of legislation."
Grooms said he was comfortable with the bill the way it was introduced, but said he's "willing to listen to any and all debates that deal with changes to the bill, including additional special classes," he said. "I want to see a hate crime bill passed in Indiana."
'A TOUGH CONVERSATION TO HAVE'
Sklar said what he feels as a member of the Jewish community is disgust at hateful acts and bias based crimes, and that's carried home when he talks to his kids about it. His daughter is 5 and his son, 8.
“It's disgusting that I have to go home and tell him 'there are people out there who don't like us because we're Jewish,” he said. “He's finally starting to understand when he hears about some of these things, and that's a tough conversation to have.”
But his son, with the pure wisdom of a young boy, had a simple answer.
“He said, 'You know what, Dad? Everybody should get to be whoever they want to be,'” Sklar said. “If we could live by the philosophy of children, the world would be a lot better place.”
Original story: https://www.newsandtribune.com/news/in-southern-indiana-victims-of-hate-say-it-s-a/article_ba78e3ec-a0d0-11e8-a104-5bc813c7cce4.html