Goshen College social work students who are enrolled in senior seminar traveled to South Bend on Sunday Jan. 20 as the Michiana Social Justice Coalition presented “The People’s Inauguration II: No Hate IN Our State.” The event was held at the Islamic Society of Michiana.
The purpose of this event was to educate and gather support from the community to influence policy on hate crimes in Indiana. 17 local social justice organizations were present at the event, including La Casa de Amistad, Moms Demand Action, The LGBTQ Center and the Jewish Federation of St Joseph Valley.
The event started with networking opportunities as the organizations each had tables set up with information and representatives ready and eager to share about what they are doing in the community.
The formal event began with Dalila Huerta of La Casa de Amistad welcoming attendees and explaining the goals and purposes of this event. Imam Mohammad Sirajuddin of the Islamic Society of Michiana then shared from personal experience why he was there and what he was advocating for.
“We are gathered here to fight for love, not hate,” Sirajuddin said. “People learn to hate. And if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”
Next, Dr. Elizabeth Bennion, a professor of American politics at Indiana University South Bend, gave an overview of the legislative process and explained how a bill becomes a law—the process the 2019 Indiana hate crimes bill needs to go through to come into legislation.
Bennion emphasized what the public needs to know and how they can play a part, such as being aware of facts such as the timeline of the bill, who the legislators are and who to vote for.
After Bennion, David Sklar, the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council Director of Government Affairs, presented the keynote addressed. He explained how Indiana is one of five states in the United States that does not have a hate crimes law in effect.
Sklar is currently co-chairing the Indiana Forward campaign, which is a statewide campaign advocating for the 2019 Indiana General Assembly to pass a hate crimes law that will be specific and protect all populations. Sklar said they are advocating for a “clear, specific and inclusive hate crimes law.”
Because of the snowstorm the day before, Sklar was not able to present in person and instead video called into the event from Indianapolis. Sklar apologized for not being there in person, but was glad to still be a part of the event, despite the weather setback.
After Sklar’s keynote address, the hosts opened the floor for the audience to ask questions. Seven or eight people lined up to the microphone. One person asked how they would ensure a hate crimes law would not have the opposite effect and be used against marginalized communities.
Abigail Graber, a senior social work major who attended this event, commented on the question later and emphasized the importance of holding judges accountable while they are prosecuting hate crimes. Raising another question, Graber said, “How do the judges decide when it is a hate crime, and not something else?”
Leanne Liechty, professor of social work, was impressed and touched by the “wonderful coalition of organizations supporting [this event].” Sandra McMasters, another senior social work student, said the event made her feel joyful because of the many Latino leaders present.
The Indiana General Assembly 2019 session is live, and the bills can be tracked at iga.in.gov/legislative/2019/bills.