From vandalism to murder: Hate crimes you didn’t know were happening in Indiana

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The Indianapolis Star on 9/10/17 by Stephanie Wang

FORT WAYNE — “This is a hate crime.”

That’s what a white supremacist told a Fort Wayne police officer last year, according to an affidavit, as he confessed to killing a black man.

Aaryn Snyder showed the police officer a tattoo — a “patch,” the affidavit said, from a “white organization.” He said he earned it by killing.

He stabbed 22-year-old Samuel Hardrix to death, leaving the body to decompose in somebody’s backyard.

The homicide was one of 69 hate crimes reported in Indiana in 2016, according to an annual state report.

Among the other hate crimes police reported:

  • Two white men beat a black man to death in a state prison dormitory in Putnamville.
  • In Indianapolis, a woman received a letter saying the neighborhood didn’t want black people living with white people, and she had “24 hours or else.”
  • Two teenage suspects went on a spray-painting spree in McCordsville, according to police, drawing large swastikas in the streets, “Heil Hitler” and “Gas the Jews” on a construction site, and an anti-black slur in the driveway of a home formerly rented by an African-American couple.

People were attacked and intimidated for being black, for being gay, for being Hispanic — and, according to the report, for being white. They had their homes, cars and businesses vandalized and destroyed for being Jewish or for being Muslim.

While Indiana does not have a hate crime law, it certainly does have hate crimes.

“This is not a hypothetical,” said Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, who has advocated for a state hate crime law. “That conduct is out there, and we should all be aware of it.”

Indiana is one of five states without a law addressing penalties for hate crimes that target people because of certain characteristics, such as their race, religion or sexual orientation. But it does require law enforcement agencies to record such crimes and report them to the Indiana State Police.

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The 2016 report has the highest number of reported incidents since 2010. It includes 35 reported crimes targeting black people and 13 targeting people for their sexual orientation. Two crimes were reported as anti-white.

 Watch Video: What Indiana Considers a Hate Crime

Most of the cases involved vandalism, simple assault or intimidation. And most of the crimes didn’t result in charges, according to the report.

Curry and other experts say hate crimes, similar to discrimination claims, are still underreported, because people fear retribution, don’t think they’ll be taken seriously or don’t know where to report.

“Having a hate crime law would certainly show those who are commonly targeted by hate crimes that justice would be made available to them,” said Amy Nelson, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana. The center, which is part of the Central Indiana Alliance Against Hate, is collecting data on hate crimes and hate-based incidents across the state through a new reporting tool.

In Indiana, hate crime reporting tends to be spotty. Indiana is the fourth worst in the nation at reporting hate crime statistics to the FBI, according to an Associated Press investigation last year. Federal guidelines call for all agencies to submit reports, even if they report zero incidents, but more than half of the state’s law enforcement agencies failed to report.

Most of Indiana’s law enforcement agencies did not report hate crimes to the state last year. In some years, such as 2012, as few as four agencies reported hate crimes to the state, with two of them reporting zero incidents.

That may not necessarily indicate they have nothing to report, experts say — but, instead, that agencies do not have an incentive to prioritize investigating and collecting data on hate crimes.

The state bias crime report is clearly not complete. After an IndyStar inquiry, South Bend law enforcement officials realized they failed to report a bias-motivated murder due to an “unfortunate oversight,” said Jessica McBrier, a spokeswoman for the St. Joseph County prosecutor’s office.

Jabreeh Cash Davis-Martin bragged about killing Afghanistan war veteran Jodie Henderson last year for making “a gay move,” according to news reports. A jury found him guilty of murder in June, and a judge recently sentenced Davis-Martin to 65 years in prison.

An IndyStar inquiry also led the Dubois County Sheriff’s Office to realize it had accidentally reported a homicide as a bias crime, because officers initially reported it was unknown whether bias motivated the crime.

Some agencies say it’s difficult to know what the state wants them to report because there is no law in place that punishes hate crimes. The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, for example, pushes “everything” to the state, said IMPD spokesman Sgt. Kendale Adams. “We’re really just a clearinghouse.”

Advocates worry that the lack of reporting can lead people to believe that hate crimes don’t really happen. And especially not in “Honest-to-Goodness” Indiana, as the state slogan goes.

State Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, has filed hate crime legislation in each of the past four years. He said members of the Republican majorities that dominate the General Assembly come largely from rural areas, where the population is less diverse.

“If you’re in rural Indiana, you probably don’t recognize that these things go on,” he said. “Everybody looks the same, everybody goes to the same church, everybody goes to the same school. They don’t see these types of issues.”

Earlier this year, state lawmakers killed a hate crimes bill as the Jewish Community Center of Indianapolis received bomb threats. They also quashed the proposal in 2016, the year that 69 hate crimes were reported to the state. They also rejected it in 2015, as Indiana was in an uproar over religious freedom and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“The supermajority can say this is not real and unfortunately for the citizens of the state of Indiana, that can silence a whole lot of experiences in this state,” Taylor said. “If I tell you that people discriminate against me, then believe me, they discriminate against me. Just because it doesn’t happen to you doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

The mother of Samuel Hardrix, the Fort Wayne man killed by a white supremacist, said finding out that her son had died was a life-changing blow. But then later finding out he was killed by someone affiliated with a hate group “hurts right in the pit of your soul,” she said.

A photo of Samuel Hardrix, provided by his mother Shirley,

A photo of Samuel Hardrix, provided by his mother Shirley, photographed at her home in Fort Wayne, Ind., Thursday, August 31, 2017.

In 2016, Samuel Hardrix, 22, was stabbed to death by white supremacist Aaryn Snyder, who admitted to police that he committed the hate crime and said he received a tattoo “patch” for killing Hardrix from a “white organization” he was involved with. (Photo: Jenna Watson/IndyStar)

“What could be so bad that he would have to kill my son and then receive a patch for it?” asked Shirley Hardrix, 49. “That’s a question I’ll never get an answer for.”

She went to court hearings for her son’s killer, and Shirley Hardrix said he tried to intimidate her by waving and moving his hands so she would notice the “patch.”

Aaryn Snyder pleaded guilty but mentally ill in July. In court, he said he was on drugs when he killed Samuel Hardrix.

“I don’t think he’s mentally ill,” Shirley Hardrix said. “He’s mentally evil.”

The judge gave Snyder the maximum sentence of 65 years in prison. At the sentencing, Shirley Hardrix faced him. He wouldn’t look at her, she said.

She held up a photograph of her son and told his killer to look at the picture.

“You lost on all counts,” she recalled telling him.

“When you joined a hate group, you lost. When you take a weapon and murder someone, you lost. You shed blood for nothing. All you get is a patch. You’re going to reap what you sow. Your burden is going to be heavy, and it’s going to be so heavy that you won’t be able to stand.”

It never crossed Shirley Hardrix’s mind that her son could one day be the victim of a hate crime. But now she researches hate groups and speaks out against them. She supports Indiana passing a hate crime law, though she remains unsure of whether lawmakers ever will.

“Black people as a whole, we’re not the only one who’s being targeted,” she said. “This is going to be everybody’s problem, so everybody’s going to have to deal with it.”

IndyStar reporter Tony Cook contributed to this story. Call IndyStar reporter Stephanie Wang at (317) 444-6184. Follow her on Twitter: @stephaniewang