Hilary Shelton

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau, joined other Black leaders Feb. 25 at the Indiana Statehouse to call for stronger hate crimes legislation. (Photo/Tyler Fenwick)

Members of the NAACP, along with state legislators, ministers and other Black leaders, gathered Feb. 25 at the Indiana Statehouse in the south atrium — just outside Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office — to show their support for hate crimes legislation and express disappointment in a bill the Indiana Senate weakened before passing.

In its original form, Senate Bill 12 would have protected individuals and groups targeted for their race, religion, gender identity and other classifications, but the Senate approved an amendment Feb. 19 that stripped away that language. The Senate then passed the bill Feb. 21. Indiana is one of five states without a hate crimes law.

“The Indiana Senate missed an opportunity to correct a wrong,” Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, told those in attendance.

Like most who spoke to the room of supporters, Melton — a member of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus — called for the House of Representatives to add the list of protected people back into the bill. If that happens, the bill would then go to a joint House and Senate committee to resolve the differences. Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and senior vice president for advocacy and policy, said those specific protected groups of people are important because hate crimes are different from other crimes.

“They choose their victims based on who you are, how you look and what they think you believe,” he said.

Shelton said he met with Holcomb’s staff and believes the Republican governor is “focused” on passing hate crimes legislation. Holcomb, who has repeatedly voiced his support for such legislation, said in a statement after the Senate amended SB 12 he would “continue to fight for the right ultimate outcome for our state and citizens this year so we’re not right back here in the same place next year.”

Rep. Gregory Porter, D-Indianapolis, also a member of the IBLC, will be one of those legislators trying to restructure the bill when it reaches the House. Porter told attendees his constituents see this weakened hate crimes bill as just the latest example of Indiana being unfair.

“Indiana has a saying: ‘A state that works,’” Porter said. “I’m often asked, ‘A state that works for who?’”

The fight for a hate crimes law has taken up the better part of two decades in the state legislature, which has consistently found ways to either kill such legislation from moving forward, or has taken so much out of the bill that it’s rendered virtually useless. John Girton, pastor of Christ Missionary Baptist Church who testified for the original bill in front of a Senate committee and was at the Statehouse gathering, said this process feels familiar to what’s happened in the past.

“Same old story,” he said. “Those who are advocating for an unconstitutional, unenforceable bill such as this are letting us know that they don’t care about our communities. They don’t care about our safety. They don’t care about our happiness. They don’t care about our lives. They don’t care about our voice. They don’t care about our children.”

Girton called SB 12 “unconstitutional” and “unenforceable” because Georgia used to have a similar law on its books that the state Supreme Court struck down in 2004 because it was too vague.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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