Op-ed: Mears: Federal law is an important step in improving hate crimes investigations

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Ryan Mears

By Prosecutor Ryan Mears

Crimes of violence leave victims and families devastated, confused and angry. When the crime is motivated by hate, the impact can be far greater, leaving entire communities in fear. A crime motivated by hate or bias is in reality a message intended to terrorize and intimidate the entire community of that race, religion, sexual orientation or other identity.

In 2020, we saw a targeted hate attack against the Muslim community as shots were fired on a Mosque in Indianapolis. The shots were fired during Eid al-Fitr, one of the Muslim community’s holiest holidays in which they gather to break the fast of Ramadan. This was a very public act that drew support from other members of the community to those impacted, but too many other hate crimes go unreported and the victims go without proper assistance.

Indianapolis is not the only city experiencing acts of hate and violence. Nationally, hate crimes have been on the rise. Most recently, there has been an alarming increase in crimes targeting the Asian American and Pacific Islander community since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has again prompted national attention to the issue.

In May, President Joe Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law. Named the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act after two young and vibrant individuals who lost their lives due to reckless hate, the act funnels money, attention and education toward eradicating hate crimes. The bill provides federal grants to state and local governments to increase education regarding hate crimes, to provide training for law enforcement to properly recognize and document hate crimes, and to improve reporting mechanisms for hate crimes. The bill was approved by Congress with bipartisan support, bringing diverse representatives together in support of this anti-hate effort.

I was pleased to see the passage of such important legislation and proud that the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office has already begun taking many of these steps on our own. We have recently launched a nonemergent Hate Crimes Hotline, which reports to a trained social worker and victim advocate. This hotline provides an opportunity to offer services to the victim, reduce witness reluctance and other barriers to investigations, and allows us to more accurately track incidents of bias. The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office Hate Crimes Hotline can be reached at 317-327-5314. Services are available in Spanish and other languages.

We recognize that there often is fear, mistrust and cultural barriers to reporting and participating in the prosecution of crimes and incidents of bias. Earlier this year, our office added a victim advocate focused on support for victims of crimes involving bias. We are also providing community presentations to discuss the complexity of hate crimes and to explain and reduce barriers to reporting hate crimes. We listened to the community’s concerns and expert opinions when creating this new role in our office, and we are excited to see federal support for efforts like ours, particularly from Congressman Andre Carson and other members of Indiana’s delegation who voted in favor of the new law.

When President Biden signed the new law in the East Room of the White House, he said, “My message to all of those of you who are hurting is: We see you. And the Congress has said: We see you. And we are committed to stop the hatred and the bias.”

Neither hate nor violence should ever be accepted in our community. For the nearly 400 women and men of the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, our choice is simply to see those impacted, to stand up to hate and to seek justice. We will continue to support the communities who are victimized by hate crimes and seek better ways to eradicate hate in our community.•

Ryan Mears is the elected prosecutor of Marion County. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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