INDIANAPOLIS — A racist attack on an Asian student at Indiana University has led to renewed attention on Indiana’s lack of a true hate crime law.
Bloomington Police arrested 56-year-old Billie Davis after they say she stabbed an Asian student in the head multiple times. Davis told police she targeted the victim due to her “being Chinese” and said it “would be one less person to blow up our country.”
Lawmakers passed a bias crimes bill in 2019 which allows judges to impose longer sentences for crimes motivated by bias. However, several organizations and activists said this recent incident demonstrates it’s not strong enough.
Melissa Borja, who serves as co-chair for the Indiana chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, said hearing of the attack made her sick.
“It was like a punch to the stomach because we have seen these attacks happen time and time again,” Borja said.
What’s worse for her and others is that the woman charged in the stabbing will likely not be punished as harshly as she would in nearly other states.
Indiana University law professor Shruti Rana, among others, said the bias crimes law is not a true hate crimes bill. For one, she said, the law is so vague that it’s hard to use.
“It makes the case more complicated and more complex to obtain a conviction as opposed to creating a platform or mechanism for which to prosecute a crime,” Rana explained.
The other sizeable difference is under the current law a defendant has to be charged with an underlying crime, like attempted murder in this most case. However, some states allow someone to be charged with a hate crime alone.
“The Indiana statute does not allow prosecutors to do that,” Rana said. “As we said before it’s only an enhanced sentence as opposed to creating a category of crime or charge that can be prosecuted.”
Democratic State Senator Shelli Yoder said she was outraged by the attack. Yoder represents the Bloomington area.
“You don’t stab someone multiple times in the head because of bias that’s because of hate,” Yoder said. “We need to make sure that in Indiana we have a strong hate crimes bill and we currently do not.”
Yoder said it’s something she plans to bring up this session.
“I know that we will be having many conversations,” Yoder said. “We definitely will be looking at this and making sure that we’re visiting it.”
While advocates said they would welcome that, Borja said the issues run much deeper.
“What woman would not have stabbed that girl if she didn’t have bias and prejudice and hate directed towards Asian American people,” Borja said. “So we can talk about hate crimes, we can talk about laws but those don’t address the problem that caused an act of violence in the first place.”
Davis is expected to be in court on Jan. 25 for a bail review hearing. Her trial is currently scheduled for June.