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home : most recent : statewide implications August 20, 2018


7/31/2018 4:51:00 PM
COMMENTARY: Indiana governor breaks with lawmakers in call for hate crimes bill

Jerry Davich, Post-Tribune Columnist

Hatred is a learned behavior despite how quickly some of us take to it.

Legislating against hate also appears to be a learned behavior, at least in Indiana, one of only five states which still doesn’t have hate crimes legislation. This isn’t a fluky mistake or an oversight. It’s intentional, most recently due to our Republican-controlled, conservative-minded legislature.

Year after year, hate crimes legislation gets enthusiastically discussed by Hoosier lawmakers, and year after year it gets quietly dismissed for undisclosed reasons. In the most recent session, a bill was again dismissed when our lawmakers couldn’t agree on parts of it, including one controversial element regarding hate crime protections for gender identity incidents.

On Monday, I received an emailed release from the governor’s office to finally address this embarrassing omission regarding hate crimes legislation. 

“No law can stop evil, but we should be clear that our state stands with the victims and their voices will not be silenced,” Gov. Eric Holcomb stated in the release.

Why did Holcomb make a public push for such needed legislation now, in the middle of summer, not in the middle of winter when it could have made a difference during the latest General Assembly? Because a hate crime took place in the tony community of Carmel, outside of Indianapolis.

Over the weekend, a synagogue in that city was vandalized with anti-Semitic, hate-filled, Nazi symbols graffiti. This is an obvious hate crime, targeting a specific minority community and terrorizing the synagogue’s congregation.

Holcomb expressed condemnation of such criminal activity. Our former governor, Vice President Mike Pence, joined him. He tweeted that he was “sickened and appalled by the cowardly act of vandalism.”

Pence tweeted that he had “many good friends” at the Congregation Shaarey Tefilla.

“Those responsible must be held accountable," he tweeted. "These vile acts of anti-Semitism must end.”

The ongoing rise of white nationalism, and its related hate crimes, is fueled by “Make America Great Again” rhetoric by President Donald Trump. Make no mistake about this connection, despite how many times our president has insisted to the contrary.

I’m not saying that Trump is publicly condoning such hate crimes. I’m saying the people who are committing these crimes feel emboldened by Trump’s rhetoric. They feel a sense of justification that the President of the United States is behind them, whether he is or not.

It doesn’t take much to instigate hate in someone who’s already infected by it. Even a smile by our president at a public rally will do the trick.

Or, in my case, a newspaper column addressing the powder-keg issue of speaking Spanish in public in ‘Murica, as defined by millions of Americans. My column’s headline: "America is brimming with Spanish-speaking bilingual residents, so get used to it."

I wrote that headline as a matter of fact, based on statistics. In other words, as a description of our country’s changing demographics, not as a prescription of what our country should or shouldn’t look like. I’m a pragmatist and a realist.

Not all Americans share my acceptance of where our nation is heading.

“No we won’t get used to it,” Mel M. wrote to me via email after that column ran.

“No one told you liberal elite (expletives) you could turn our country into a multi-cultural (expletive)-hole,” he wrote. “What’s going to happen is that ordinary Americans are going to rise up and slit your white throats. Get it! We’re going to get rid of you.”

This is a perfect example of unbridled, aimless hatefulness. His words drip with hate, apparently toward anyone who doesn’t share his looks, hate and ideology.

I found it ironic that this man wants to get rid of Americans such as myself, a middle-aged, middle-class white guy, who he doesn’t consider “ordinary.”

I replied to Mel, as I do with all of my readers (even the ones who issue death threats to me), but he never replied. I simply asked where he lived. All of my columns first get posted online to my Chicago Tribune webpage before being published in the Post-Tribune.

Because of this broad internet exposure, I routinely hear from readers from across the country. And from around the world, which offers me a different perspective on our country’s issues.

“Dear Mr. Davich, I speak Portuguese, Spanish, English, Italian and French but, whenever I am in the presence of someone who speaks English… I will speak English or whichever language the person speaks if I am able to do so,” wrote Ronaldo Pinto, of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

“You and many others like you are, in my view, the true representatives of the American people, who I admire and respect for their kindness, generosity, honesty, loyalty and concern with the wellbeing of their neighbors,” Pinto wrote via email.

Another reader, Mark Mapes, of Minneapolis, Minn., offered a little levity to this controversial subject.

“One of my acquired languages is Spanish. I learned it from the people on the housekeeping crew where I work,” he wrote via email. “I have long been quite perturbed by my compatriots who choose to inflict their ignorance on others by insisting they ‘talk English,’ rather than use a moment of contact with speakers of another language as an opportunity to enrich their own interior world.”

For those Americans, like me, who may be leery that Spanish-speaking people are secretly gossiping about them, Mapes designed T-shirts stating, “I speak Spanish. I am not talking about you. Get over yourself!”

“Thank you for the bravery and downright American forthrightness you show in your (column). Con buenas felicidades! Mark”

Of course I had no idea what “Con buenas felicidades!” meant, so I looked it up. It means, “With good wishes!”

If I was already infected with blind hate, I could have interpreted it as a derogatory slur or something worse.

Fortunately for all of us, traits like acceptance and understanding are also learned behaviors.

Related Stories:
• Holcomb asks lawmakers enact hate crimes law following Nazi vandalism at synagogue
• EDITORIAL: Indiana must pass a law on hate crimes
• Victims of hate say it's a crime in need of a law

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