Illinois Gets Tougher On Hate Crimes

Dec 25, 2017

While across the country hate crime rates rose after the presidential election, Illinois has passed some laws addressing the issue. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center and FBI statistics - the last quarter of 2016 saw hate crimes go up more than 25% in the U.S.

Some blame now-President Donald Trump. He even faces lawsuits over his rhetoric, and experts say Muslims and Jewish people have especially been targeted. Lonnie Nasatir is the Greater Chicago/Upper Midwest Regional Director for the Anti-Defamation League, which lobbies against hate and Antisemitism. “Hate crimes demand priority attention because of their special impact- they intimidate victims and members of the victim’s community, leaving them feeling fearful, isolated, and vulnerable," says Nasatir.

In Illinois - the legislature passed two laws this year meant to prevent and further prosecute such crimes. One updates the list of crimes considered to be hateful - it includes cyber-stalking and the electronic sharing of obscene messages. The Attorney General's office will be able to pursue civil suits on behalf of alleged hate crime victims, and judges will be able to charge up to $25,000 in civil penalties.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who announced she will not be running for re-election, was not available for comment. In a press release she had said in support of the measure, "The recent increase in hate crimes is deeply troubling, and we must strengthen our hate crimes law to help all of the people of Illinois feel safe.”

Nasatir with the ADL says, "Today, when social media is as much a part of daily life as face-to-face interactions, it is particularly important to protect victims of threats and stalking online. Illinois’s new law marks an important step forward in ensuring that our states has comprehensive and strong protections for victims of hate crimes and that we also remain vigilant in protecting victims online.”

Another measure signed into law by the governor removes a cap on restitution for hate crimes that take place in or cause damage to a place of worship. It requires offenders to take classes that discourage such acts and perform at least 200 hours of community service.