Harry Bosch, the terse-but-thoughtful homicide detective in a series of crime novels by Michael Connelly, lives by a simple code: “Everybody counts, or nobody counts.”
It's a lesson Indiana lawmakers should remember as they consider legislation to add penalties for threats, vandalism or violence motivated by bias against certain groups – hate crimes.
State and national increases in bias-based crimes have raised concern about Indiana's status as one of only five states without some kind of explicit anti-hate crime law. Intentionally or not, the absence of such explicit legal protections sends a message, as well.
Gov. Eric Holcomb has already called for hate crimes legislation, and House Speaker Brian Bosma told The Journal Gazette's Niki Kelly last week he believes a bill adding to the list of aggravating factors judges could consider in sentencing could pass both houses during the session that begins in January. Indiana law now only specifies acts committed because of bias toward the young, the old, or the physically or mentally infirm.
But though he told Kelly such a measure could be expanded to include race, national origin, religion and sexual orientation, Bosma said he believes lawmakers would draw the line at including protections for transgendered people. A “big knock-down, drag-out, RFRA-esque discussion” would be counterproductive, he said.
Indeed, no one wants to see a replay of passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a Gov. Mike Pence-endorsed spectacle that tarnished Indiana's image across the nation in 2015. It's also true that if the state had passed a hate crimes bill just a few years ago without specifying sexual identity as a category, few would have objected.Sarah Brown of the National Conference of State Legislatures told an Indiana study committee this fall just 16 of the 45 states with hate-crimes laws specifically name sexual identity.
But public understanding of the plight of transgendered people, who are often harassed for who they are, has grown. “The point of listing protected classes is to make sure the most vulnerable people are protected,” Katie Blair of the ACLU of Indiana told Kelly.
We hope the legislature will address that concern. For Indiana to enact a hate crimes bill in 2019 that intentionally leaves transgendered people off the list could send a worse message than doing nothing at all. Everybody counts, or nobody counts.