By Abrahm Hurt
INDIANAPOLIS — A project has been launched to create a database to track hate crimes and hate-based incidents across Indiana.
The Central Indiana Alliance Against Hate announced the new Tracking Hate Database on Thursday morning at the inaugural Indiana Response to Hate Conference.
Amy Nelson, executive director at Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, speaks at the inaugural Indiana Response to Hate Conference. She announced the launch of a new database to track hate crimes and hate-based incidents in Indiana. Photo by Abrahm Hurt, TheStatehouseFile.com
The event, attended by around 200 people, focused on combatting and addressing hate crimes and incidents that occur nationally and locally. Speakers ranged from Jeannine Bell, an author and law professor at Indiana University, to Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, a gay man murdered in Wyoming in 1998 because of his sexual orientation.
Though the event had been planned for months, the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend brought urgency to the gathering at the Indianapolis Marriott East.
“This is unacceptable that we came so far in the Obama administration to now be tethered back even further than Bush, which I thought I would never say, and still be in the company of the 50’s with Jim Crow,” Shepard said of Charlottesville and its aftermath.
In Indiana, the new database will allow people to report hate-based incidents, such as racial or homophobic slurs, and crimes such as property damages, beatings or graffiti on a church or synagogue. Before today, there was no readily resource available within the state for tracking these types of events.
“We’re very low on actually having data about the number of both hate-based crimes as well as hate-based incidents occurring,” said Amy Nelson, executive director at Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana and one of the organizers of the event. “What we want to do is launch this database so that Hoosiers have the option of reporting hate when it occurs to them.”
Victims and witnesses can access the database in confidence, providing answers to questions such as where the incident occurred, a description of what happened, and whether the incident was targeted. They will also be asked whether or not the incident has been reported to law enforcement or another agency.
Nelson said this database would be used as her group works to pass hate crime legislation in Indiana by providing statistics as well as personal stories.
“One of the things we have found in previous efforts to get a hate crime law passed is that there has been insufficient data,” she said. “We certainly envision this as being used as a more effective mechanism in order to talk about sheer statistics.”
Support for a hate crime law has grown after the violence of Charlottesville. In addition to the fighting that took place, a self-described white supremacist drove his car into some people protesting the rally and killed a young woman.
Afterwards, both Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said they are open to the idea of a hate crime law in this state. Indiana is one of five states without a statute that calls for aggravated penalties if a defendant has committed a crime because of the victim’s race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, among other factors.
“[I] obviously condemn those type of actions,” Holcomb said on Monday after the events in Charlottesville. “There’s nothing supreme about those white supremacists other than their stupidity and that’s all I have to say about it.”
Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said he was encouraged that Bosma called for an Indiana hate crime law.
“I know Senate Democrats will be ready and willing to work with the majority on legislation that protects everyone and appropriately punishes those that commit atrocious hate crimes like what occurred in Charlottesville, as well as those that have been committed right here at home,” Lanane said in a statement.
According to the Alliance, Indiana is ranked as the 13th state with the most active hate groups last year. The other states that do not have hate crime laws are Arkansas, Wyoming, Georgia and South Carolina.
The Alliance was formed in March to help reduce hate-based incidents in Central Indiana. Its members include more than 50 nonprofits, businesses and individuals.
Abrahm Hurt is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.