I have been fighting hate crime in Illinois for more than 25 years, and I have never seen it this bad.

As the director of the Hate Crime Project at the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, I can remember when Muslims became targets of a wave of ugly hate crimes after the Sept. 11 attacks. Our lawyers fought back by representing the victims for free in court proceedings. It was not enough to prevent two men on the Near West Side from severely beating Amer Zaveri and Toby Paulose in November 2002. The two American-born young men of Indian descent were ambushed by attackers yelling, “Are you guys Taliban?” as they smashed their heads with beer bottles. A judge awarded Mr. Zaveri and Mr. Paulose more than $1 million in damages, but we know that countless others who were targeted by the hatred and venom following 9-11 either did not report the crimes or were never able to bring a case to court.

OPINION


In response to recent widespread acts of vandalism and bomb threats targeting the Jewish community, Gov. Bruce Rauner appeared two weeks ago at a dinner for the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center to announce his four-point plan to combat hate crime. Specifically, the governor proposed to increase penalties for hate crimes committed against houses of worship and religious centers, offer hate crime training to state and local law enforcement, and develop online educational resources to supplement state-required teaching about the Holocaust to elementary and high school students.

The governor should be applauded for starting this conversation, but he could go much farther to address the recent epidemic of hate crime.

Today, we are confronting a social crisis that may well go beyond what happened after 9-11. In Illinois, there has been a dramatic surge in hate crimes against Muslims, Jews, immigrants, refugees, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and people of color over the last two years. Hate crimes against Muslims alone increased by 67 percent between 2015 and 2016. The real figures are likely much higher due to under-reporting. This epidemic of hate demands condemnation and purposeful action from our elected officials. Gov. Rauner’s comments last week were a welcome change from the silence that has so far greeted this surge – but there is much more that needs to be done.

First, Rauner must speak out clearly against hate in all its forms, not just against one religion. As the painful lessons of 9-11 taught me, there is no hierarchy of hate.

Second, Rauner should immediately appoint a diverse group of community leaders and advocates to fill the 20 vacant positions on his Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crime. This is a responsibility that the governor has ignored for far too long.

Third, Rauner can ensure that all law enforcement personnel and prosecutors’ offices receive standardized training on how to identify, charge and report hate crimes. Victims are often too fearful of authorities to report these incidents. Even when informed, some law enforcement officials do not properly classify violent incidents as hate crimes, effectively hiding the data from the FBI. For these reasons, we need a more comprehensive approach to tackling hate crime — one that acknowledges all affected populations and encourages swift and accurate response and reporting in Illinois.

Finally, Rauner can play a pivotal role by providing incentives for state law enforcement to submit complete reports on hate crimes. He should take a page from Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who last week introduced legislative efforts to improve reporting and the use of the National Incident-Based Reporting System. Incentivizing reporting helps ensure that law enforcement agencies are collecting and sharing the data that will be most useful in understanding and combating hate crimes.

Of course, Rauner does not bear sole responsibility for speaking out against hate. Other elected leaders across Illinois, such as Mayor Rahm Emanuel, should be more vocal and should coordinate their efforts. They could follow Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s example, who convened a diverse group of community representatives for a listening forum before introducing legislation this week to strengthen Illinois’ hate crime laws. Gov. Rauner has taken an important first step by standing publicly against bigotry. It is now time to match those words with action.

Betsy Shuman-Moore is director of the Hate Crime Project for the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.

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