Senate committee hears testimony on hate crime bill

By Emily Ketterer
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS — La’Kysha Gardner’s 15-year-old son, Jason, was beaten nearly to death and left in a ditch because of his race. His attacker was sentenced to 30 days.

“I sat in the courtroom yesterday and watched a young man who almost killed my child receive 30 days,” Gardner told the Senate Correction and Criminal Law Committee Tuesday as it heard testimony on bias crime legislation, Senate Bill 418. “Is that the going rate now for hate? Thirty days?

La’Kysha Gardner describes her son’s beating to the Corrections and Criminal Law committee Tuesday morning. Photo by Seth Fleming, TheStatehouseFile.com

Indiana is one of five states without a hate crime law. SB 418, in its current form, would allow judges to weigh everything from race and sex to gender identity and sexual orientation as aggravating circumstances in sentencing a criminal defendant. Hate crime legislation has been proposed in the past, but was defeated.

“If you’re going to adopt a bill, make sure that bill is for everyone,” Gardner said. “Make sure the police know they need help, they need guidance, they need extra training in this matter so we can work with them so the next family, God forbid, the next family that may have to go through this.”

Eric Thiel, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church in West Lafayette, said that he supported the bill as it would promote “Hoosier hospitality rather than Hoosier hostility.” His church was vandalized last week with slurs about race, minorities and sexual orientation.

“I’m a straight, white male. I feel comfortable everywhere. Nobody is attacking me,” Thiel said. “All I want is for everybody else in the state to feel as comfortable as I do walking down the street, attending events, going to bars or going into churches.”

Melanie Davis, a transgender woman from Bloomington, was shot at by a man who continued to shout hateful slurs at her. Davis supports the bill but said SB 418 must include transgender people.

“’Will I be next?’ is constantly on our minds,” Davis said. “We simply ask for protection against the discriminatory violence we routinely face. Gender identity should be included in any law that addresses hate crimes.”

Ryan McCann of Indiana Family Action said the bill is “the very definition of exclusivity” because it creates special protected classes that treat victims of similar crimes differently.

“We have pushed, especially last session, to have the bill be more inclusive and help more Hoosiers, and we were rejected,” McCann said, explaining he wanted a broader statement that didn’t single out any one group for protection.

Micah Clark, president of the American Family Association of Indiana,  said a person who commits a violent crime should not be further punished because of their opinions.

Micah Clark presents his thoughts on SB 418 in front of the Corrections and Criminal Law committee Tuesday. Photo by Seth Fleming, TheStatehouseFile.com

“In America, we punish people on what they do, not what they think,” Clark said.

Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, chair of the committee, withheld vote on the bill in order to go over the number of amendments on the bill and listen to all testimony. Sen. Tim Lanane said he believes one amendment would remove gender identity from the bill.

Feeling the bill was in peril after the hearing, Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody released a statement urging Gov. Eric Holcomb to endorse the bill to lessen the GOP divide on the issue.

Emily Ketterer is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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