Jason Gardner, 15, was attacked by a bunch of bullies near his home. What happened in the aftermath is evidence of how Indiana’s non-existent hate crime laws have oppressed the black community.
Gardner was walking near a creek behind the Cedarwood Trails mobile home park in New Haven, Indiana — where he had lived for four months and whose residents are all white — calling for his girlfriend when he was hit with something hard from behind. As the Africa-American teen fell down, his assailants rained blows on him and hurled racial slurs at him.
It was very dark so Gardner couldn’t see their face — but he could hear their voices calling him “N*****,” “You don’t belong here” and “Go back to Africa where you came from.”
Gardner soon lost consciousness and woke up to find himself surrounded by his rescuers but no sign of his attackers.
When first responders arrived at the scene, they saw Gardner’s 17-year-old brother, Amari — who was rushing home to tell his mother, La’Kysha what had befallen his brother — and Chad Stahl, one of the neighbors near the scene. Thinking they were the people who had attacked Gardner, police ordered them to stop and handcuffed Amari — but did not touch Stahl who was white.
Despite Stahl telling them that Amari was Gardner’s brother, the cops took him to their squad car and placed him inside. When Gardner’s mother saw this, she was enraged and accused the cops of being racist and treating them like criminals.
However, the cops refused to listen to her because she is a black woman.
Fortunately, one of her white neighbors intervened and within minutes Amari was released. Gardner was taken to the hospital and treated for the swelling on his face, scratches across his chest and at least one big bruise on his torso.
He later told the police it was too dark to see the faces but he recognized one voices: that of one of his neighbors, Lee.
According to Gardner’s family, some of their white neighbors did not like the fact the Gardner, a black man, had been talking to their daughters. The neighborhood is completely white and a few of the residents did not take it well that a black family had moved next to them. One of the families started a feud with Gardner over an incident that concerned their daughter dating him and Lee, the person who the teen accused of beating him, was one of their friends. He had later promised Gardner to pay him back for the scuffle.
When police confronted Lee he lied about the incident and agreed to take a lie detector test. However, he did not show up at the date and his parents did not pick up police’s calls. Despite all this, it took two month for police to charge Lee with assault, not hate crime.
Lee was hooked with an ankle bracelet and placed in home detention. He is now awaiting trial.
Meanwhile, the Gardners decided to move as they got a lot of threats from their neighbors. Many people, whom they had considered friends, blamed them for escalating the event and said they exaggerated the role race played in the incidents.
Indiana is one of the five states that have no hate crime law. Hence, investigators did not determine whether the attack was fueled by racism and listed it simply as battery. In fact, according to New Haven’s law enforcement data, there has not been a single hate crime there since 2003.
Although the Indiana State Police attempts to keep track of the number of hate crimes in the state, the lack of such laws makes it easy to ignore the issue. Only 19 out of the state’s 535 law enforcement departments reported a hate crime to state authorities in 2016. According to the Associated Press, less than half of the state’s local agencies took part in the FBI’s yearly effort to record hate crimes.
The New Haven Police Department is among those who have documented no hate crime reports.
As for its diversity, 19 out of the 20 officers are white men. The only woman, who is also the first black member of the force, was hired in Nov. 2016.
The Gardners have little faith the court process can give them justice. They had already lost faith in the police even before Gardner was taken to the hospital.
They are right in their skepticism.
On Sept. 28, the prosecutors called La’Kysha to inform her that a hearing, scheduled for the next day, had been postponed. The next day, the judge met the defense attorney and prosecutors to set a new date. It was once again postponed.
Nobody called the Gardners to inform them of the latest developments. They only found out days later after they received a revised subpoena in the mail. They were also not informed the judge had ordered Lee’s ankle bracelet be removed and he be taken off home detention for good behavior.
So much for justice.
Banner/Thumbnail credit: Reuters, Mike Stone