Enacting hate-crime legislation in Indiana can be a big step toward combating white supremacy and other ethnic and racial hate groups.

That appeared to become a consensus and key takeaway from Saturday’s first meeting of the Not In Columbus consortium, based on a mix of voices in the lecture hall of the Columbus Learning Center.

The meeting of about 200 people included the Columbus mayor and several department heads, educators, faith leaders, foundation heads, business owners and representatives of Columbus affinity groups.

Hanna Omar struck a chord during the gathering when she quoted a past workshop speaker on racial and related justice issues.

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“Justice isn’t for just us,” said Omara, spokesperson for the Islamic Society of Columbus and one of five introductory speakers. “It isn’t enough for a gay white man to fight for the right to love while young black men and women are being gunned down. It isn’t enough for African-American kids to march for racial justice while young Latinos are being ripped apart from their families.

“It isn’t enough to fight for DACA students to stay in the only home they have ever known while Muslims fleeing war are sent back (to their war-torn homeland) under the guise of national security.”

Not In Columbus was represented by a panel from nine different groups: Columbus city administration, Black Lives Matter of Columbus, Showing Up for Racial Justice, the Hindu Society of Southern Indiana, African American Pastors Alliance, Bartholomew County Indivisible, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbus, Su Casa Columbus and the Islamic Society.

Other groups also are part of the consortium that began meeting Oct. 12 after two white supremacy groups made news locally.

The Traditionalist Worker Party, labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white nationalist group that advocates racially pure nations and communities, conducted a practice march down both sides of Washington Street downtown in early September. Then, in late October, a group called Midwestern Alliance distributed posters at public locations in Columbus in support of its stated goal to establish a white ethnic state in Midwestern states.

Not In Columbus’ mission statement makes its purpose clear. Part of its says, “Not In Columbus will not be silent in response to hate. We will stand against those wishing to spread hate by word or deed.”

Brittany King, among the meeting’s main organizers, who launched Black Lives Matter of Columbus 18 months ago, talked of being somewhat powerless to fight hate after a local person on social media made racial slur against her. That came after King commented in the media on the Midwestern Alliance plans, suggesting she kill herself by lynching.

Since Indiana is among five states without hate-crime legislation, King said she was left with little recourse.

“It’s free speech,” she said.

Hate-crime legislation

An audience member asked why Indiana does not have a hate-crime law.

Bob Pitman, who ran for state representative in 2016 and is a current member of Showing Up for Racial Justice, said lawmakers apparently have felt no need for one.

Pitman and others urged attendees to attend the Third House sessions with state legislators, held when the legislature is in session, to let lawmakers know that such a measure is necessary.

Efforts to pass hate-crime legislation have come up in each of the past two sessions of the Indiana General Assembly, and there has been talk of trying again in 2018.

When someone asked what will happen if a hate group announces a planned march or rally, Lienhoop cautioned what not to do.

“Don’t get in people’s faces,” Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop said emphatically, referring to a mid-August standoff between white supremacists and protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned deadly.

But attendee Noah Leininger said other groups, including some in Boston, were effective after showing up by the thousands in the exact location of a planned rally of white supremacists and neo-Nazis. The protestors thwarted the supremacists’ plans.

Leininger said he agreed with the mayor that those protesting hate groups never should get in the face of others with which they disagree.

“But I think it’s also important to show them that we’re not just going to automatically cede space to them,” Leininger said.

People or groups considering counter-protest efforts aimed at hate groups need civil rights-style training similar to what was done in the 1960s, Isabel Nowlin said.

“They can’t just wing it,” Nowlin said.

The Rev. Mike Harris, a leader of the African American Pastors Alliance, said he was pleased with the first public meeting and looked forward to more, which organizers said would occur.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Harris, who acknowledged being excited at the unified front against hatred and racism despite political, religious and other differences. “But it’s a good first step.”

Meeting by the numbers

5: Introductory speakers

9: Local groups represented on a panel

200: Attendance

Not In Columbus mission statement

“Not In Columbus is a coalition of organizations in Columbus, Indiana, who have formed an alliance to publicly reject the ideology of any group that seeks to divide and exclude any members of our community. We believe Columbus is an inclusive community that values diversity in all its forms, therefore we renounce all forms of hate in our city. White Supremacists, White Nationalists, Neo-Nazis (and any other group founded on discriminatory ideologies) are NOT welcome to use this town as grounds to recruit, indoctrinate, or mobilize our residents. Not in Columbus will not be silent in response to hate. We will stand against those wishing to spread hate by word or deed.”

Not In Columbus coalition

Current members are:

  • African American Pastors Alliance
  • Bartholomew County Indivisible
  • Black Lives Matter of Columbus
  • Chinese Affinity Group
  • Columbus Hebrew congregation
  • First Presbyterian Church
  • Hindu Society of Southern Indiana
  • Islamic Society of Columbus Indiana
  • Showing Up For Racial Justice
  • Su Casa Columbus
  • Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbus

On the Web

Here is a link to the Indiana Civil Rights Commission website, which explains where and how hate crimes can be reported: in.gov/icrc/2344.htm

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.