Bil Browning

Anti-Defamation League testimony

Filed By Bil Browning | February 15, 2007 7:16 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Anti-Defamation League, Brandt Hershman, Brian Bosma, hate crimes against LGBT people, HB1459, Indiana, KKK, Ku Klux Klan

At yesterday's hearing on the hate crimes bill, several individuals testified about the importance of passing the bill. Testifying were:

  • Carl Brizzi (Marion County Prosecutor)
  • Earl Morgan (Director, Indianapolis Department of Public Safety)
  • Abigail Seif, (Anti-Defamation League, Chicago office)
  • Cornell Burris (President, Greater Indianapolis Branch, NAACP)
  • Dan Funk (Indiana Equality)
  • Elder Lionel Rush (Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis)
  • Vivian Benge (Indiana Transgender Rights Advocacy Alliance)
  • Lettie Oliver (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 62)

Some of the most compelling testimony came from Ms. Seif of the Anti-Defamation League. I thought that it was particularly telling that Ms. Seif quotes the study that I posted about earlier this week. Are we surprised that the KKK and other hate groups are increasing their membership on the backs of bigoted and hateful legislators like Brandt Hershman and Brian Bosma who are pushing a marriage discrimination amendment?

I would suggest that more than likely Hershman and Bosma simply take off their white robes before they enter the Statehouse. You know, just like D.C. Stephenson did.

Read the testimony after the jump.

Testimony of the Anti-Defamation League in support of HB 1459 Wednesday, February 14, 2007 Abigail Seif, ADL Representative

Good day. My name is Abigail Seif. I am an Indianapolis attorney and a former Ohio prosecutor. I am here today on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to express our support for House Bill 1459, which would create a hate crimes law in Indiana.

The Anti-Defamation League is one of the nation's preeminent civil and human rights organizations. ADL advocates for the victims of hate and discrimination, monitors extremist groups, trains law enforcement responding to extremist groups and hate crimes and conducts educational programs in our schools and workplaces that empower all of us to take an active role in creating a society that is accepting of all people.

ADL is a pioneer in the area of hate crimes legislation. In 1981, we drafted a model statute that has become the basis for hate crime laws in 45 states. The United States Supreme Court has upheld hate crimes laws as constitutional, and they have served as an effective tool in the fight against hate in our society. Currently, only Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Wyoming and Indiana lack any form of hate crime legislation.

Hate crime legislation recognizes the special nature and impact hate crimes have on both the individual and society. Since they are singled out because of their actual identity, hate crime victims tend to feel a deeper trauma or reaction to a crime than the victim of a non-bias- motivated crime. Victims of hate violence often feel powerless to prevent the crime from occurring again because their vulnerability is based on an immutable characteristic over which they have no control.

The effects of hate violence are felt not only by the victim, but by society at large. Members of the targeted group feel less safe because of the hate crime and, thus, in a larger sense, are also victims of the particular act. Such acts can lead to the polarization of communities, an increase in security needs at schools and churches, and the creation of an overall atmosphere of fear.

Consider, for example, that a family returns home to find "Jack loves Jill" spray-painted on their garage door. It is vandalism, but it is unlikely to have a wide impact.

Now imagine that the family is of Arab decent, and the graffiti reads "Arabs get out." It is still vandalism, but the impact of the "Arab get out" statement crime is far greater. Not only would it cause the family to live in fear, but it would also have a chilling effect on the lives of other Arab families living nearby. It would likely prompt families to restrict their activities or even to move away. The impact of the "Arab get out" graffiti is far greater because the criminal was motivated by hate and the victim was picked out because of his national origin.

House Bill 1459 would enable judges to take the motive of hate into account when sentencing perpetrators. This legislation is long overdue in Indiana. Hate crimes happen here. Though lacking a hate crimes law, Indiana is required by the federal government to report hate crimes. In 2005, the last year for which data is available, this state reported 54 hate crimes. In 2004, the state reported 63 hate crimes. While these numbers are the tip of the iceberg, each represents a crime that had a disproportionate impact on our community.

For instance, in May 2005, a group of racist skinheads calling themselves 2-1 FATAL burned down two homes and damaged three others on the Near-Southside of Indianapolis. Their stated goal was to prevent an African-American family from moving into the neighborhood. In 2003, an assailant deliberately burned down the CANDLES Holocaust Museum in Terre Haute, leaving a note paying homage to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. In 2002, three white men attacked Mario McGrew and Sidney Hockaday, two African-American teenagers who were riding their bicycles near a shopping center in South Bend. Shouting racial slurs at them, the perpetrators left Mario with a broken arm and Sidney with a swollen jaw, bruises and scrapes to the head. It is time we stood up and said the citizens of Indiana will not ignore this type of harassment and intimidation.

Furthermore, there is a significant presence of hate groups in Indiana. In a report released last week, ADL documents the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, which is increasingly targeting immigrants and Hispanic-Americans. At least six major Klan groups have a presence in our state, and several are headquartered here. The Vinlander Social Club, a violent racist skinhead group, is based in our state. The National Socialist Movement, Americas largest neo-Nazi group, has several activists in the state.

There is a mis-perception among some that hate crime legislation gives "special protection" to certain minority groups. This is simply not true. In Wisconsin v. Mitchell, the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld hate crime legislation, the victim was white and the assailants were African American. In 2003, 21 percent of racially motivated hate crimes reported were motivated by anti-White sentiments.

Critics argue that hate crime laws punish assailants for their thoughts and speech. Yet in adding hate as an aggravating circumstance in sentencing, the defendant must have already been found guilty of an underlying crime. Hate crime laws penalize actions, not thoughts. An individual is free to think or say anything he or she chooses. It is only when these thoughts serve as the motivation for an illegal act that hate crime legislation comes into play.

This legislation makes clear that the people of Indiana understand the divisive and destructive impact of hate on our communities. As our state competes for the talent and jobs necessary to drive our economy forward, it sends the message to professionals and to international corporations that this state is accepting of differences and rejects the purveyors of bigotry. It is an extra tool to ensure that Hoosiers of all backgrounds have the ability to raise their families here and to achieve their full potential.

The Anti-Defamation League urges passage of House Bill 1459.

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