When Elree Jones walked into an Indiana convenience store to pick up a beer and make a quick phone call he had no idea that his life would be painfully and irrevocably changed. Jones had asked the store clerk if he could use the phone to call a family member and while calmly placing a call all hell broke loose.
Mark Neal, 50 years old, simply walked up to Jones, screaming, “I’ll kill you nigger” and began slashing at his face, leaving a gash from his forehead to his lower cheek. Jones tried to defend himself and ran outside the store only to have Neal follow him, screaming, cutting, slashing and calling for his blood. Jones finally escaped to a friend’s house where he managed to call the police and get medical attention.
Does this sound like a hate crime to you? It won’t to the state’s attorneys in Indiana. When you look at the larger story – the level of animus, racism and downright insensitivity on the part of local police authorities in Lafayette, Indiana – it is a frightening sign of where our nation is today.
Jones, 34-year-old father of three was actually in town from Chicago looking for work and was completely shocked by the incident and how it occurred. Despite the fact that he had a gash across his face and defensive cuts on his arms, police still questioned him as if he had done something to provoke the attack. It was only after reviewing the security camera at the convenience store and interviewing the store clerk did they believe his allegation.
According to NBC News in Chicago, the clerk, known only as “Amber,” told the chilling tale in bleak simplicity.
“The white guy walked over. The black guy didn’t even look up like there was a problem. Nothing. And then you see the guy take out a knife and just lunge at him,” recalled Amber.
“It’s just sad that there is so much hate in the world. And another person could have no compassion for a human life. We all bleed the same.”
The police have captured Neal and he’s being held until the investigation is finished, but that does little or nothing to help Jones, who will suffer for the rest of his life. In addition to the facial scar that must be cleaned four times a day to avoid infection, he has lost one of his tear ducts due to the depth of the slash on his face. Once a happy-go-lucky and friendly man, his sister, who is also a nurse, reports that he is now sullen and depressed, shocked at the random depravity that racism can engender. All of this suffering for simply being black at the wrong place at the wrong time.
While the local police are investigating whether to classify this attack as a hate crime, the Indiana legislature will likely do nothing about this case no matter how it is classified. Indiana is one of the few states in America that requires police to categorize and identify hates crimes, but there is no additional legal penalty for committing them.
So, for example, if you blow up a mosque and scrawl “Death to Islam” on the sidewalk in front of the burning building, the law will identify it as a hate crime, but you’ll only be charged for attempted murder and arson. And while I am not the strongest advocate of hate crime laws, I think determining the order of intent of a crime is difficult (Did you rob that synagogue because you hate Jews or were you simply out to rob someone and chose a synagogue because you hate Jews? Which is a crime against people you hate and which is simply theft justified by hate?).
However, in clear cases such as this, unless Neal is found to be mentally ill, it is clear that he had no goal that night except to hurt a black person for simply being black and that is a hate crime.
It is a shame that a black man simply looking to find a job in a tough economy has to fear for his life. Even worse, you have to wonder how safe Lafayette is for the hundreds of African-American students who attend Purdue University. One would hope that the state leaders do the right thing and go from simply recording hate to passing state legislation to punish it.