Advocates, elected officials and researchers shared ways people can prevent and respond to hate crimes during a Oct. 19 online meeting hosted by Indivisible Illinois, a grassroots coalition of Illinoisans who organize around "urgent and long-term issues and electoral campaigns."
Hate crimes in Illinois are on the rise101 hate crimes that targeted marginalized communities were reported to the FBI this year, compared to 56 reported in 2020, which is an 80% increase in incidents, according to a recent report from the Anti-Defamation League.
Since the start of 2022, there have been at least 10 hate crimes reported by Illinois' LGBTQ+ community, including violent threats, graffiti and vandalism, according to the Anti-Defamation League's report.
"The report looks at cases of hate crimes and incidents that have taken place in Illinois over the past two or three years," said Trent Spoolstra, associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. "It's very thoroughit covers a wide variety of different types of hate everywhere, from anti-semitism, to white supremacist propaganda, to extremism happening in law enforcement to incidents against the LGBTQ+ community."
Although there's been an increase in these incidents, many hate crimes are a continuation of the discrimination LGBTQ+ and BIPOC people have experienced for centuries, said Betty Magness, Illinois Political Director of the National Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
"Hate never stopped after slavery ended," Magness said. "The thing that's happening now is the younger generation uses all available methods to find the truth. They have phones, videos, the internetand now everyone gets to see hate in living color."
It's important to recognize that oppression against marginalized people is connected, rather than a variety of communities' individual struggles, said Stephanie Taylor, a chair on Indivisible Illinois' executive board.
"We can't deal with this in silos," Taylor said. "We can't do crazy things like go after women's rights without thinking about equal rights for all. It's important we join forces and are awake at the table to make a difference for this historical occasion."
Illinois has the strongest law against hate crimes in the country, but more still needs to be done to educate people about how to respond to hate crimes and other forms of discrimination, said Sadia Covert, a member of the DuPage County Board who co-authored a 2017 amendment to the law.
Covert works with law enforcement and community organizations to help people unlearn their biases by educating them about marginalized groups' experiences.
"We wanted to educate people about the fact that hate isn't something you're born with, it's something someone learns," Covert said. "To get rid of that, we can unlearn it. It's important to let people know who communities are on a very individual, human level."
Similarly, Illinois is the only state that has officially banned book bans to prevent reading restrictions, but it's still important for people to get involved in local school and library boards, she added.
"Run for your school boards, run for your library boards, run for office so that we have representation," Covert said. "Because if we're not seen there if we're not normalized, we will not have a voice. We have to be at the table to see some sort of gap or discrepancy."
Kevin Morrison, the first openly LGBTQ+ Cook County Commissioner, helped to revise gendered language in official government documents and repealed a law that allowed police to ID gender non-conforming people. He said these legal changes positively impacted the LGBTQ+ community, but like Covert, he emphasized that educating people about these issues is equally important.
People should continue bringing awareness of issues to elected officials as well so that leaders can understand what is affecting people's communities the most, Morrison added.
All of the speakers encouraged people to continue having conversations with the people around them and to correct those who espouse prejudiced beliefs about people in everyday situations.
"Hate is one of those things where it can go from someone just being afraid of something, to taking action, to attacking and shooting up a church or supermarket," said Benjamin Beaupre, who researches hate groups. "If you see someone who's going through this and you have a personal connection, use it. Learning and deprogramming … is more about bringing them back to recognize others as human beings."
"If you can bring them back to that level, you can start having real conversations again," Beaupre said.
Magness added, "If you don't speak up, silence gives consent in my opinion."
"I know that sometimes going to these public meetings and showing your face, showing your support while hate is occurring can be incredibly difficult, but it's incredibly important because oftentimes it's the minority that's speaking out," Morrison said. "We need your voices where these hot-button issues are occurring."
To read the Anti-Defamation League's full report on hate crimes, visit its website at www.adl.org/resources/report/hate-prairie-state-extremism-antisemitism-illinois.
To learn more about Indivisible Illinois' political efforts, visit its website at www.indivisibleillinois.org .