An Oct. 29 forum at Ezra Habonim/Niles Township Jewish Congregation Synagogue in Skokie focused on certain aspects of hate crimes, including civil and criminal remedies.
Speakers included Judge Renee Goldfarb, Illinois state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, Betsy Shuman-Moore ( director of Fair Housing and Hate Crime Projects for the Chicago Committee of Lawyers for Civil Rights Under Law ) and Arnold Romeo ( Chicago Commission on Human Relations ).
Rabbi Jeffrey Weill, of the Ezra-Habonim/Niles Township Jewish Congregation Synagogue, provided words of welcome while Joel Chupack, president of the Decalogue Society of Lawyers, noted that the lawyers present would receive professional development hours for attending the forum.
Michael Strom, past president and current board of directors member of the Decalogue Society of Lawyers, introduced each speaker.
Cassidy noted that, for the longest time, the only statute in Illinois protecting people based on sexual orientation was the hate-crimes law. However, since then, Illinois has added many other protections for LGBT people, including the recent Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Marriage Fairness Act.
"That doesn't mean that hate crimes are over. We continue to see an increase in bias and hate crimes against people from all communities," said Cassidy. "Very often, there is a wide gulf between what a community experiences as a hate crime and what a prosecutor can charge and successfully prosecute as a hate crime. That has always been one of our greatest challenges."
Cassidy explained that the Illinois hate-crimes law is narrower regarding its sexual-orientation definition than it is in the Illinois Civil Rights Act, so there is a need to add gender identity to the law. Although it hasn't moved out of the state legislature, Cassidy noted that she did introduce a bill in 2011 that would add gender identity to the law. Cassidy said that another piece that needs to be added to Illinois law is an institutional vandalism statute protecting LGBT spaces.
Romeo noted that the Chicago Commission on Human Relations was originally formed to deal with racial tensions among the African-American, Latino and Asian communities. Since then, Romeo explained, the commission has expanded its reach to include many different groups, including the LGBT community.
As for charging someone with a hate crime, Romeo said that one of the issues is if it has to be attached to another crime like battery or assault or property damage so the victim can identify what happened. "That is one of the tricky things about hate crimes because people don't really know what a hate crime is," he said. "We believe most of the hate crimes in Chicago aren't reported."
Romeo explained that the commission provides victims with support because the legal process takes time. This help includes providing a space for the victims to share what happened to them and making sure they get to court because visibility matters in these cases.
Goldfarb noted that it isn't just the LGBT community that has hate-crime victims, adding that the Jewish community is also subject to the same violations to this day. "Now what exactly are hate crimes?," he asked. "They are crimes committed against two victimsthe individual that was targeted and the community to which they belongand that's what makes them unique. Hate crimes damage the entire fabric of society."
"The most frequent instances of hate crimes are due to race, then religion, then sexual orientation, and the vast majority of religious hate crimes target the Jewish community," Goldfarb added. "What is the profile of a hate-crime offender? The typical hate-crime offender is male, between the ages of 14 and 24, and has no criminal record. The thing that all hate crime offenders have in common no matter who they target is they are looking for someone to attack."
Shuman-Moore's presentation focused on the Chicago Lawyers Committee's ( CLC ) Hate Crime Project."The CLCwhich was founded in 1969 and has 45 Chicago law firm membersseeks to eliminate discrimination and poverty," said Shuman-Moore. "CLC lawyers provide pro bono representation for civil rights cases and projects seeking to have an impact."
The issue areas that Shuman-Moore noted that the CLC works on are employment discrimination, housing discrimination, voting rights, education equity, the Settlement Assistance Project, the Law Project and hate crimes. "The purpose of the project is to fight violent crime based on all of the classes outlined in the Illinois hate-crimes law," said Shuman-Moore.
Shuman-Moore explained that it is widely accepted that many more hate crimes occur than are reported due to the denial and lack of knowledge by law enforcement authorities and lack of knowledge by the victims that they were a victim of a hate crime and it's not just an urban problem. She also noted that hate crime victims can file civil suits against their attacker( s ) and the CLC will help those who do so.
A Q&A session took place after each speaker's remarks.
The Decalogue Society of Lawyers and Ezra Habonim/Niles Township Jewish Congregation co-sponsored the event.
See www.decaloguesociety.org, www.ehnt.org, www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cchr.html and www.clccrul.org for more information.