Tag Archives: hate crimes

Indiana Forward

I recently read an article that identified pluralism as the great challenge of our time.

Most Americans no longer live among people who look, pray and think as they do; we are no longer surrounded by people whose minor differences offer no challenge to the assumptions that ground our worldviews.

Will our tribal differences allow us to create genuine, supportive communities?

Psychiatrists can probably explain why some people are comfortable in a diverse environment and others are threatened, but that diversity is an inescapable aspect of modern life. The challenge facing lawmakers is how to craft rules that respect the right of threatened folks to hold their beliefs while protecting the targets of their disapproval or hatred from harm.

I recently posted about a letter to the editor from four Indiana legislators opposing a hate crimes bill.The tone of that letter made it abundantly clear that lawmakers who wrote it see the bill as criticism of  their belief that certain Hoosiers are unworthy of explicit protection. (The LGBTQ community was the clear, if unidentified, target of their “righteous” enmity.)

A very different perspective was offered by Michael Huber, who heads the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, and Ann Murlow, CEO of United Way of Central Indiana. In a column written for the Indiana Business Journal, they reminded readers that Indiana is one of only five states without a hate crimes law.

It’s a blind spot in our justice system and a flaw in our business climate that becomes more conspicuous with each passing year.

Nationally, reports of crimes motivated by a victim’s unchangeable characteristics—such as race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity—increased 17 percent from 2016 to 2017. Stories of violence and vandalism from across the state show that Hoosiers aren’t immune to this trend.

The column reported on the establishment of a coalition called Forward Indiana by members of the business, nonprofit, education, faith, government and philanthropy communities.

That coalition understands that an inclusive bias-crimes law is good for people, employers and our state. The Indy Chamber has also reactivated the statewide Indiana Competes coalition, extending its anti-discrimination mission to make the business case for action against bias crimes.

Together, we represent thousands of companies, civic organizations, religious and social service groups, and individuals from all walks of life in support of a strong law with a clear list of personal characteristics that reflects the diversity of modern-day Hoosiers.

Simply put, we want Indiana to reject hate without loopholes or ambiguity.

Indiana Forward recognizes that failure to declare, in no uncertain terms, that government will forcefully protect its citizens from crimes motivated by the bigotries of other citizens would send a positive signal to self-righteous haters.

Huber and Murtlow are also absolutely right when they point out that passage of a hate crimes bill that is not inclusive, a bill that surrenders to theocratic demands to exclude certain citizens from its protection, would be an endorsement of the position that it is acceptable to hate members of that group.

If we go to the Statehouse ready to exclude some of our fellow citizens— trading equality for expediency—any victory would be a hollow one that surrenders any claim to real leadership….

If Indiana passes a bias-crimes bill in 2019 that pointedly excludes gender identity, it would only amplify the negative perceptions that hinder our economic development efforts.

No one wants another Religious Freedom Restoration Act; our partners still struggle with the fallout as they try to appeal to skilled workers, attract conventions and convince employers that Indiana is an inclusive and inviting state.

But the lesson of RFRA isn’t to avoid controversy, it’s that discrimination is bad for business and wrong for Indiana. Leaving gender identity out of bias-crimes legislation would leave us on the defensive, limiting our ability to welcome a diverse workforce and the business opportunities that follow.

It’s not enough to lead with an affordable business climate when human capital is also a top priority. Passing a watered-down bias-crimes law would force CEOs to rethink Indiana as a competitive place to recruit and retain talent.

We shouldn’t squander this opportunity to lead with hesitation or half-measures; the General Assembly should pass a strong bias-crimes law that doesn’t leave any Hoosiers behind.•

In other words, let’s bring Indiana into the 21st Century.

Yes, It’s Disheartening. But It’s True.

We’re getting used to seeing headlines like this recent one in the Washington Post: “Hate in America is On the Rise.” According to the lede,

A NEW FBI report on hate crimes tells a sobering story. For the second year in a row, police departments across the country reported a rise in the number of crimes motivated by bias.

A statistical breakdown suggests that nearly 60  percent of these crimes were motivated by racial bias, with African Americans targeted in about half of those.  Over 20 percent were expressions of religious animosity; more than half of those attacks were aimed at Jews, with another quarter targeting Muslims. (There has been a sharp rise in crimes against Muslims and people of Arab descent.)

Sociologists and psychiatrists can offer informed analyses of the social conditions that cause people harboring bigoted attitudes to “act out.” But it isn’t much of a stretch to attribute a significant portion of this troubling spike in hate crimes to a President who traffics in racial and religious stereotypes.

In fact, Trump’s victory poses a chicken-and-egg conundrum: did rising tribalism and bigotry lead to his election? Or did he win by nurturing and exploiting that bigotry?

The answer, of course, is both.

In the Atlantic, Adam Serwer has provided a compelling analysis of the essential nature of Trump’s appeal. He began that analysis by revisiting David Duke’s gubernatorial campaign in Louisiana. Then, as now, the Chattering Classes attributed Duke’s appeal to economic “distress.” Then–as now–the data simply didn’t support that explanation.

Duke’s strong showing, however, wasn’t powered merely by poor or working-class whites—and the poorest demographic in the state, black voters, backed Johnston. Duke “clobbered Johnston in white working-class districts, ran even with him in predominantly white middle-class suburbs, and lost only because black Louisianans, representing one-quarter of the electorate, voted against him in overwhelming numbers,” The Washington Post reported in 1990. Duke picked up nearly 60 percent of the white vote. Faced with Duke’s popularity among whites of all income levels, the press framed his strong showing largely as the result of the economic suffering of the white working classes. Louisiana had “one of the least-educated electorates in the nation; and a large working class that has suffered through a long recession,” The Post stated.

Duke’s position as a leader of the KKK was explained away by Louisiana voters, who blamed the media for “making Duke seem racist.”

The economic explanation carried the day: Duke was a freak creature of the bayou who had managed to tap into the frustrations of a struggling sector of the Louisiana electorate with an abnormally high tolerance for racist messaging.

Right.

Fast forward to 2016, and the Trump campaign. As Serwer writes

During the final few weeks of the campaign, I asked dozens of Trump supporters about their candidate’s remarks regarding Muslims and people of color. I wanted to understand how these average Republicans—those who would never read the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer or go to a Klan rally at a Confederate statue—had nevertheless embraced someone who demonized religious and ethnic minorities. What I found was that Trump embodied his supporters’ most profound beliefs—combining an insistence that discriminatory policies were necessary with vehement denials that his policies would discriminate and absolute outrage that the question would even be asked.

It was not just Trump’s supporters who were in denial about what they were voting for, but Americans across the political spectrum, who, as had been the case with those who had backed Duke, searched desperately for any alternative explanation—outsourcing, anti-Washington anger, economic anxiety—to the one staring them in the face. The frequent postelection media expeditions to Trump country to see whether the fever has broken, or whether Trump’s most ardent supporters have changed their minds, are a direct outgrowth of this mistake. These supporters will not change their minds, because this is what they always wanted: a president who embodies the rage they feel toward those they hate and fear, while reassuring them that that rage is nothing to be ashamed of. (emphasis mine)

Serwer notes the “specific dissonance” of Trumpism—people advocating for cruelly discriminatory policies while denying–undoubtedly even to themselves–that there is any racial animus involved. He concludes that without the racism of so substantial a number of white voters, Trump simply could not have won.

This  conclusion is supported by virtually all of the data that has emerged since the election.

Serwer also answers a question that has consumed people of good will, as they watch the escalating disaster that is the Trump Administration: when will his supporters realize how destructive his Presidency is? Why hasn’t his abandonment of virtually all of his campaign promises awakened them?

Answer: because the promises he’s kept are the ones that matter to them.

..his ban on travelers from Muslim-majority countries; the unleashing of immigration-enforcement agencies against anyone in the country illegally regardless of whether he poses a danger; an attempt to cut legal immigration in half; and an abdication of the Justice Department’s constitutional responsibility to protect black Americans from corrupt or abusive police, discriminatory financial practices, and voter suppression. In his own stumbling manner, Trump has pursued the race-based agenda promoted during his campaign.

Serwer’s conclusion? So long as Trump promotes the social and political hegemony of white Christians, his supporters won’t abandon him.

There is much more in the article, and it is definitely worth reading in its entirety.

The Unraveling Begins….

Swastikas on churches. Threatening graffiti in minority neighborhoods. Racist posts on Facebook and Twitter. The Klan and the American Nazi Party celebrating Trump’s “win for the Whites.”

These are very scary times.

Ed Brayton notes that Raw Story is keeping a list of all of the bigoted, criminal and violent attacks on gays, blacks, Muslims, women, Latinos in others since Donald Trump was elected–and that the list is growing by leaps and bounds.

We need to be honest; Trump did not create the bigotry he exploited and encouraged. It was already there, often barely below the surface. It reacted with seething hostility to the election of an African-American President, and was exacerbated by recognition of same-sex marriage, by efforts to provide immigrants with a path to citizenship, and to other legal and cultural changes perceived–primarily by white men– as diminishing the privileged status of white Christian Americans.

NPR recently reported on the rise in hate crimes during 2015.

Hate crimes in 2015 were more than 6 percent more frequent than they were in 2014, with a two-thirds increase in religiously motivated attacks against Muslims.

The FBI’s Hate Crimes Statistics, 2015 report tallied more than 5,850 hate crime incidents in 2015.

Motivations for hate crime incidents, 2015: 56.9 percent were motivated by a race/ethnicity/ancestry bias. 21.4 percent were prompted by religious bias. 18.1 percent resulted from sexual-orientation bias. 2.0 percent were motivated by gender-identity bias. 1.3 percent were prompted by disability bias. 0.4 percent (23 incidents) were motivated by a gender bias.

Most of those — 56.9 percent — were racially motivated, with more than half of race-based attacks targeting African-Americans.

But religiously motivated attacks were a growing share of the tally. Incidents of religious hate crimes rose by nearly 23 percent compared to 2014.

Most hate crimes based on religion targeted Jewish people; anti-Semitic attacks were up more than 9 percent compared to 2014.

Since the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that 60 percent of hate crimes are never reported to police, the actual incidence of bias crime is undoubtedly much higher than these statistics suggest.

I’m sure social scientists and mental health professionals have explanations for the loss of civility and increasing nastiness of our times. There’s the disorientation that accompanies rapid social change, the stresses caused by economic uncertainty, the unattractive but very human need to find someone or some group to blame when life isn’t going well. There’s tribalism,  fear of difference, and resentment at perceived loss of status.

I understand that we Americans are never going to come together around the campfire, metaphorically speaking, and sing kumbaya. But we are at risk of losing important norms of mutual respect and civic equality–norms that (while admittedly more honored in the breach than in reality) we have long held to be essential to our national identity.

I keep thinking about Rodney King’s plaintive question, “Can’t we all just get along?”

The answer–at least as provided by those who voted for Trump– seems to be “evidently not.”

Hate and Crime and Punishment

Can the law protect members of disfavored groups against hate crimes without running afoul of the First Amendment?

Indiana is one of a very few states that does not currently have a hate crimes statute, and a number of very well-meaning people point to that as evidence that we are condoning acts motivated by animus based upon race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Although animus may well explain some part of the opposition to such measures, there are legitimate reasons to go slowly when we consider criminalizing “hate.”

The American Constitution differentiates between actions which government is entitled to prohibit and/or punish, and ideas–no matter how harmful or despicable–that government is prohibited from sanctioning. (This distinction escapes too many of us; it is the reason that those “beleaguered” bakers and florists are free to disapprove of same-sex marriage–and to voice that disapproval–but not free to refuse service to same-sex customers.)

That brings us to another misunderstanding–a conflation of criminal intent with motive. 

In order for government to prove that a crime has been committed, a prosecutor must show that the accused actually intended to commit a crime. An affirmative answer to “Did the accused know it was rat poison when he put it in the stew he fed to the deceased?” establishes criminal intent. If the defendant can prove it was an accident–that he thought that tin contained paprika–he can be punished for negligence, but not for a crime.

His motive for putting rat poison in the stew, however, is irrelevant to the punishment.

Many proponents of so-called “hate crimes” legislation want to add punishment for the motive that led to the criminal act.  (For example, if I beat you senseless after we fought over money, I might face a sentence of 2-4 years, but if I beat you senseless because I hate  Episcopalians, the sentence range would increase to 3-5. We’d add a year based upon the motive.)

Opponents note that this approach effectively criminalizes the thought–the idea– that prompted the attack.

Proponents argue that these statutes send a message–that they are an important signal of our collective disapproval of bias.

Fortunately, there is a middle way that should satisfy the concerns of both camps.

When a defendant has been found guilty of a crime–murder, battery, vandalism, whatever–the typical statute provides a range of fines or sentences. The Judge decides whether to impose a sentence at the top or the bottom of that range, and s/he makes that determination after taking into account all mitigating and aggravating circumstances.

For example, if a first-time offender is facing 2-4 years, and has exhibited remorse, the Judge may opt for two years; if the defendant is a repeat offender with an “attitude,” the Judge may opt for four years.

There is no reason why the existence of bias cannot be an aggravating circumstance. (I would be surprised if it isn’t already part of the sentencing calculus in most courts.) Such an approach–explicitly used in several jurisdictions–avoids setting a fixed penalty for “bad thoughts” without requiring the criminal justice system to ignore the kinds of hateful influences that we collectively deem socially detrimental and (truly) unAmerican.

Hate crimes legislation is just another example of the cautionary adage: how you do something is every bit as important as what you do.