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Summit tackles hate crimes and community responses
by Matt Simonette
2017-10-26

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Chicago Commission on Human Relations ( CCHR ) and other community stakeholders convened the second Hate Crime Summit to address bias-based crimes against members of local constituencies, among them Chicago's LGBT community, on Oct. 25.

The event was intended as an exercise in "bridge-building in the face of hate," said CCHR Commissioner Mona Noriega in her opening remarks.

The morning's keynote session featured two individuals whose lives were deeply impacted by the August 2012 killings at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. In that incident, a white supremacist gunman shot and killed six individuals and wounded four others.

Milwaukee-based therapist Pardeep Kaleka, who founded the anti-racism organization Serve2Unite, spoke about his professional focus, which he called "generational, personal [and] familial trauma." He was was inspired to become a therapist shortly after the Oak Creek incident; his father was one of the six persons killed. In August, Kaleka confronted House Speaker Paul Ryan about white supremacists and gun control in a nationally televised town hall meeting in Racine, Wisconsin.

Incidents such as the shootings are "driven by hate, and they can only [be healed] by love," Kaleka said at the summit. "If people don't use incidents like those as a catalyst for change, we will continue to put people in harm's way."

Steve Scaffidi, who had been sworn in as Oak Creek's mayor just a short time before the shootings, spoke about the importance of increasing awareness about both diversity and connections between community constituencies, which the community sought out in the wake of the tragedy. Oak Creek residents, he said, refused to allow themselves to be defined by the shooting.

"We chose a path that said we're not going to accept it," Scaffidi added.

Another keynote panelist, Christian Picciolini, who decades ago was instrumental in organizing the American neo-Nazi skinhead movement and is now an anti-racism advocate and television producer, noted what he calls "potholes" that often lead people to casting their lots with white supremacists, among them mental-health issues, unemployment and extreme poverty and even extreme privilege.

"What people need to overcome hate is resiliency, self-confidence and connections" with people, he said. "They're projecting their own pain on other people, so they don't have to deal with it themselves."

Picciolini added that the most essential part of what moderator Imani Rupert-Gordon, executive director of Affinity Community Services, called his "deradicalization"—evolving from a white supremacist to an anti-racism activist—was getting away from his "own fear, [lack of] self-worth and hatred."

Chicago Police Department ( CPD ) 1st Deputy Superintendent Kevin Navarro opened the panel with brief remarks, noting that a commitment to combating bias-based crimes was inherent in the first line of CPD's mission statement. The statement declares a commitment "to protecting the rights, lives and property of all people," he said. "Nowhere in that one line does it say, 'all people except… .'"

Workshops throughout the day included sessions about hate crimes against LGBT youth; coalition building and community interventions; and hate crimes against persons with disabilities.

Transgender activist Precious Brady Davis closed the day with a keynote address to motivate attendees.

"On the individual and institutional levels, horrors are faced every day by those of us in historically marginalized communities," she said.

She added, "It is vital though that we continue to name, document and bring attention to what is happening, and that we create spaces like this to address the hateful violence and the continual violence in the form of an inadequate response."

The event was organized by the Hate Crimes Coalition, an ad hoc group composed of law enforcement officials, non-profit officials and academics. The first area Hate Crime Summit took place in 2014.

The morning panel and Brady Davis's speech are on the Windy City Times YouTube channel.



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