Hate crime rising, report activists at Illinois attorney general's summit

At a summit of civil rights leaders Thursday called by the state's attorney general, local activists say they are seeing an increase of hate crime incidents in the Chicago area in the wake of President Donald Trump's immigration enforcement policies.

Hate incidents targeted toward immigrant and religious minority groups in the months since Trump's election have sent a ripple of fear through those communities, whose members are uneasy about partaking in normal activities like attending synagogue or crossing the Canadian border. Activists report instances of Muslim women having their scarves pulled off and say graffiti with Trump's name paired with a swastika were found in a suburban library bathroom on five different occasions.

More than 1,000 reports of hate incidents in the United States were collected by the Southern Poverty Law Center in the month since Donald Trump's election, and data released in January by the FBI show there were 5,850 hate crime incidents nationally in 2015, up 6.8 percent from 5,479 in 2014.

In the Chicago area, the Council on American-Islamic Relations reported 400 hate crimes in 2016, and has counted 175 incidents so far in 2017, just two months into the new year. The organization could not immediately provide a monthly comparison to 2016. But Maaria Mozaffar, a legal adviser with the organization, said members have noticed a spike in bullying and travel-related hate incidents this year.

The uptick in reported hate crime cases spurred Attorney General Lisa Madigan to host the summit, where she condemned Trump's executive orders as unconstitutional. Nearly a dozen activists from local organizations representing immigrant and minority groups spoke of examples of hate crimes committed against themselves or someone they knew, and strategized with Madigan on how to curb violence inflicted on minorities.

"We know from our own experience that the strength of our country has always been the strength of its people — and all its people," Madigan said, addressing activists and reporters at the Thompson Center.

At least 10 Jewish Community Centers across the country, including one in Chicago, received bomb threats Monday. A threat to the Hyde Park JCC Monday brought police to the scene, but officers and staff found no evidence that the threat was bona fide, according to police, and no evacuation was necessary.

In all, 48 JCCs in 26 states and one Canadian province received nearly 60 bomb threats during January, according to an association of Jewish community centers across the nation. Those threats have continued into February.

Earlier this month, the Chicago Loop Synagogue on South Clark Street, which has a congregation of about 800 people, was marked with swastikas and its front window was smashed.

"Our community is suffering, and it's not age specific," Mozaffur said. Children as young as kindergartners are questioning their identity, she said, and incidents of work discrimination against Muslim adults, which had increased after 9/11, have grown further in recent months.

At the summit, Jane Charney, director of domestic affairs at the Jewish Community Relations Council, cited additional hate incidents against the Jewish community in recent months: The properties of Jewish college students across Illinois campuses have been vandalized; a swastika was carved into a bench at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie; and the Northbrook Public Library has had at least five instances of anti-Semitic vandalism in its men's bathroom.

"Our community is on high alert, as you can imagine, based on these incidents," Charney said. "But it has also shown tremendous resilience," she said, describing the overwhelming support Chicago's Jewish community received following the vandalism of the Loop synagogue.

At the summit, Madigan highlighted new proposed legislation that would ensure that all victims of hate crimes are afforded the ability to file a civil cause of action in response to incidents including intimidation, stalking, cyberstalking and transmission of obscene messages. Democratic Rep. Litesa Wallace, of Rockford, on Feb. 10 introduced House Bill 3711, which would also impose civil penalties to deter those crimes.