Illinois lawmakers, advocates hope to address rise in hate crimes

The Illinois State Capitol dome.
The Illinois State Capitol dome.(Source: Gray TV)
Published: Aug. 25, 2022 at 6:29 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Illinois has seen a significant rise in hate crimes over the past two years with attacks against Asian Americans, Jewish residents, and the LGBTQ community.

The Illinois Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crimes is looking into the possibility of creating a statewide hate crimes and bias incident hotline. Illinois Human Rights Director Jim Bennett said Thursday that the hotline would be separate from reporting to law enforcement.

Bennett explained the new hotline could help victims of hate crimes and bias incidents talk with an expert on the other phone line. He also believes it could be a great opportunity to get people connected with agencies and local groups that people turn to when they are facing a crisis.

“We’ve heard time and time again that when people are in a crisis, they’re going to go to who they trust,” Bennett said. “And we want to arm the people that they trust.”

The commission is also recommending that the state create a grant program to help organizations connect with the helpline and develop more services to assist victims of hate crimes. They would also like to educate law enforcement about how to respond to hate crimes and create a continuing education course for state attorneys, public defenders, and judges.

Bennett told the Illinois House Public Safety and Violence Prevention Task Force that commission members would like to see a data collection and analysis hub for hate crimes and bias incidents. Experts across the country know hate crimes are underreported, even in Illinois.

Equality Illinois reported that more than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills have been filed across the country in recent years and most of those proposals target trans youth. Director Public Policy Director Mike Ziri said an unprecedented number of Illinois LGBTQ students reported harassment in school over the past year. Ziri also told representatives that 2021 was the deadliest year on record for transgender and nonbinary people.

Data from Williams Institute show that 56% of trans people report they didn’t call law enforcement when they needed help and 48% of LGBTQ+ people who experienced violence were mistreated by police.

His organization has seen anti-LGBTQ rhetoric surge in the months following Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signing the “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law. In fact, NBC News reported that anti-LGBTQ online hate speech increased by 400%. Thousands of people across the country frequently posted or tweeted slurs such as “groomer,” “predator,” and “pedophile” in attacks against LGBTQ people. Ziri explained Illinois has also seen reports of actions at school board and public library meetings to ban books acknowledging the existence and lived experience of LGBTQ people.

“But it’s not just LGBTQ people. There are attempts to ban books about the Civil Rights movement, about Black history, and Latinx history and the history of marginalized communities,” Ziri said. “What we’re seeing is an attack on who belongs and how students see themselves or how people see themselves in the content they provide in classrooms and in broader society.”

Hate crimes against Asian Americans have increased by 339% since 2020, according to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University. Abbey Eusebio is the anti-hate action center manager at the Chinese American Service League in Chicago. Eusebio explained that 30% of Americans think hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have decreased or no longer exist. She said CASL is able to help victims get legal services and mental health support after attacks.

“We can also provide assistance to complete the crime victims’ compensation application administered through the Illinois Attorney General’s Office,” Eusebio said. “And we’re able to assist individuals filling out social security disability applications.”

Eusebio said CASL wants to empower the AAPI community by addressing the cultural stigma that people sometimes struggle with based on a fear that they will be shamed for bringing attention to an issue even though they have become victimized during hate crimes or hate incidents.

Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League said antisemitic incidents in Illinois have increased by 430% since 2016. ADL Midwest Regional Director David Goldenberg told lawmakers that his organization has been tracking antisemitic harassment, vandalism, and assault since 1974. Goldenberg noted that four of the last five years had the highest total number of antisemitic incidents.

“We also saw a dramatic increase in antisemitism in schools. You can see a 61% increase in K-12 schools,” Goldenberg said. “We also a dramatic increase and more than doubling the number of antisemitic instances reported at colleges and universities.”

Goldenberg said there have been just under two dozen reports of antisemitic propaganda distributed across the state over the past six months. Some of the flyers blame Jews for the spread of COVID-19 and every aspect of the Biden administration. Over the past week, the ADL has documented reports of white supremacist propaganda showing Jews are responsible for mass immigration, abortion and gun control.

He also suggested the state should hold social media companies responsible for spreading hate and misinformation on their platforms. Goldenberg said organizations should continue to speak out, share facts and show strength in the face of hate and bigotry.

Bennett said the commission would like to investigate best practices for the Department of Human Rights and develop educational programs to prevent hate crimes. They would also like to discourage hate crimes for each protected class that may satisfy requirements for orders of probation or conditional discharge for offenders. Bennett explained the commission wants to engage in partnership opportunities with academic and research institutions to develop interventions preventing people from becoming radicalized.

“We need to stop that radicalization before it happens,” Bennett said. “It’s very hard to undo once it occurs, and there’s some really good models out there that we want to join into.”

The final commission recommendation is for the state to develop a community outreach plan to stop hate crimes. Bennett said this initiative could help people be educated about what hate crimes are and how they can be reported.

If you are a victim of a hate crime or witness an attack happening, call 911.

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