MARION COUNTY, Ind. — Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears this week launched a Hate Crimes Hotline for callers who think they’ve been subjected to a hate crime.
“We want to create a forum and an opportunity for people who are victims of hate crimes to be able to come forward in a way where they’re not only able to tell their story about what happened but also the person that they’re gonna be telling is a victim advocate and somebody who’s trained to deal with the sensitivities associated with people who have been a victim of a hate crime.”
Mears said that while Indiana does not have a hate crimes statute, evidence of a hate crime can be cited as an aggravating factor during sentencing upon conviction of a related offense.
“The hate crime aggravator does give the judge a little bit more authority and leeway to issue a harsher punishment,” said Mears.
Since the launch of the hotline on Monday, intake specialists have already received three general inquiry calls.
“I think we were only looking at the tip of the iceberg,” said Mears, “and so a lot of times that’s not necessarily the primary focus when officers are responding to a scene, that’s not why officers are there. They’re there to help someone who is dealing with if they’re the victim of a robbery or battery or something worse, they’re trying to identify the person involved and they’re not so concerned necessarily about what that motivation was.”
Mears said that social media use has relaxed the community mores that often kept such interactions reserved and respectful of differences between individuals.
“One of the things we’ve seen is that level of decorum and that level of respect between people is probably not what it once was and I think a lot of that can be traced back to what’s posted online and so I think that does fuel some of the conversation that takes place face-to-face, where you have people who are very willing to acknowledge their own bias or prejudice with their online profiles.
“Language matters and how people refer to one another. It’s easy to identify when someone uses a racial epithet, that’s easy to identify as a hate crime, but where’s that person coming from, what baggage are they bringing to those conversations is a really important part of this and in 2021 we’re In a better position to assess people and evaluate people and see well what’s their profile consist of, what do they post about, what do they talk about. Maybe this wasn’t just an unfriendly interaction, maybe there is more to this story.”
The Marion County Hate Crimes Hotline is (317) 327-5314.