OPS director attends hate crimes

Danny Davis

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Bob Fitzgerald, director of the Office of Public Safety, learned about the current situations and conditions of statutes involving hate crimes at a conference Sept. 29, sponsored by the Illinois attorney general and the Illinois State Police.Police, organizations, public officials and university personnel met to talk about hate crimes at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Reports were given on statistics and actions on hate crimes by over 150 different organizations, from police departments to the task force on hate crimes in Chicago.

As defined by the Illinois Criminal Statute, a person commits a hate crime when, by reason of the actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or national origin of another individual or group of individuals, he commits assault, battery, aggravated assault, misdemeanor criminal damage to property, misdemeanor or theft, criminal trespass, mob action or disorderly conduct, or harassment by telephone against a victim who is (i) the other individual; (ii) a member of the group of individuals; (iii) a person who has an association with, is married to, or has a friendship with the other individuals or a member of the group of individuals; (iv) a relative (by blood or marriage) of a person described in clause (i), (ii), or (iii).

There were over 8,000 hate crimes reported in 1996 in the United States. In Illinois, there were 448 reported in 1997, as reported to the Illinois State Police.

There have been 188 hate crimes reported in Illinois so far this year, and Fitzgerald estimated that figure is underreported by 50 percent Sixty-six percent of known suspects in hate crimes are white males ages 17 to 22.

“Usually by the time of 17 to 22 of age, they have got their prejudice; it’s embedded in them. They have learned way long before their 17 to 22 of age,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald feels that there should be sensitivity training, preferably starting when children are young. “When kids are young they need to be told that there is nothing wrong with being Jewish, or nothing wrong with being Hispanic. That has to come from the school or home,” Fitzgerald said.

Police need to be more aware of what hate crime is and where is it happening. Hate crimes are not being reported for reasons such as fear of retaliation and the feeling of humiliation and shame about being victimized. There is also public skepticism about the responsiveness of law enforcement. In addition, cultural or language barriers or the fear that gay, lesbian or transsexual individuals will be forced out of the closet by the disclosure of information can discourage people from reporting hate crimes.

Forty-two percent of the hate crimes committed in the United States were directed against African-Americans, according to 1996 statistics on the causes of hate crimes.

Reports show that 73 percent of hate crimes are committed because of racial or ethnic bias, with 13 percent against Jewish people and 12 percent against gays and lesbians.

“First of all, I think you have to identify hate crimes. Someone driving down the street and yells a racial slur, because it’s more to it than words. You have to be careful of freedom of speech, (because) usually there is a criminal offense has been committed,” Fitzgerald said. “I think it’s early in the school year. We haven’t seen any signs of this and I hope it continues that way.”

Hate crimes are a Class 4 felony for a first offense and a Class 2 felony for a second or subsequent offense. The offender can face prison time and probation or conditional discharge for the offense will include public or community service of no less than 200 hours. cw ps rb

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