FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) - A northern Indiana group upset by a recent wave of cemetery vandalism is urging lawmakers to toughen up penalties for anyone convicted of damaging gravestones.
The LaPorte County group, Citizens Concerned with Cemetery Vandalism, recently sent a letter to local, state and congressional leaders seeking legislation to boost cemetery vandalism penalties, including requiring mandatory jail time for such crimes.
Cemetery associations, research groups and historical and genealogical societies signed the letter, which calls cemetery vandalism “despicable crimes” that show “an absolute disrespect for our heritage, history, and culture.”
“It’s nonsense to classify cemetery destruction as a personal property crime, instead of as a collective desecration of historical monuments. This is not ‘criminal mischief,’ it is a disgrace,” the letter states.
Cemetery mischief is a misdemeanor unless damages are $2,500 or more, when it becomes a felony punishable by a sentence of six months to 2½ years.
But that’s not enough for Donna Nelson, a member of the group seeking tougher penalties. She said any item placed within a cemetery should immediately become historical artifacts and severe penalties should be applied to those convicted of damaging them.
Nelson, who documents the damage caused by cemetery vandalism, said those acts are too often attributed to young people with too much time on their hands.
“That’s never an excuse,” she told The Journal Gazette (https://bit.ly/1N3K5qR ).
The recent wave of cemetery vandalism includes more than 100 headstones that were damaged or overturned in Michigan City in December and bronze military plaques stolen and headstones damaged earlier this year in Porter and Jasper counties.
And vandals hit Fort Wayne’s Jewish Cemetery in January, damaging about 60 grave markers.
Casey Miller, executive director of the Indiana Cemetery Association, said the group would support stiffer fines and penalties for people convicted of cemetery vandalism.
He said there has been no noticeable increase in those acts over the years, but cemetery vandalism is difficult to prevent.
“The problem is for managers, you can’t police cemeteries 24/7. It’s just impossible to do,” he said. “It’s just people being cruel and the victim not being able to defend himself.”
Information from: The Journal Gazette, https://www.journalgazette.net
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