By Justin Kwasa
In 2016, law enforcement agencies in Illinois reported a combined 123 hate crimes to the FBI Uniform Crime Report. That’s more than two crimes inspired by hate happening in the state every single week.
As shocking as that statistic is, we know that this number is probably underreported. While Illinois has a better state law than most, there are still many investigators and prosecutors across the state that do not have access to adequate training on how to build hate crimes cases and implement the law in the most effective way. That’s why on May 10th the Stop Hate Project partnered with the Mathew Shepard Foundation, the Civil Rights Enforcement Associates (CREA), The Center on Halsted, the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and the City of Chicago’s Commission on Human Relations to convene 28 law enforcement professionals for the Chicago Hate Crimes Summit.
During this training, key officials from the Chicago-area law enforcement community heard from many local and national leaders in the hate crimes space. The Summit kicked off with powerful words from keynote speakers Judy and Dennis Shepard, who founded the Matthew Shepard Foundation and played a key role in the passage of the Shepard-Byrd Act. After their emotional and inspiring opening remarks, the event then shifted to a skills training led by CREA instructors, Gerard Hogan and Albert Moskowitz. These two Department of Justice veterans provided invaluable insight drawn from their collective 60 plus years prosecuting hate crimes and other criminal civil rights violations around the world.
Hogan and Moskowitz, along with guest speakers from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Cook County State’s Attorney office, navigated the complex nuances of federal and state hate crime statues in engaging and interactive ways. In the morning module, the attendees observed a two person debate that addressed and refuted many of the common arguments against the need for hate crime laws. During lunch, attendees were able to hear directly from local community groups about how hate crimes directly impact the lives of individuals and entire communities.
But the session that by far received the most positive feedback was the afternoon scenarios. During this module, attendees were placed in small groups that contained both investigators and prosecutors. These professionals then worked together to build a case based on a simulated hate crime. Throughout the afternoon, the groups would pause their discussions to report their progress to everyone in attendance. This was important because by hearing how other groups approached the same problem, the law enforcement professionals were able to learn about new resources and methods that can benefit their everyday work.
While the Chicago Hate Crimes Summit was a success, there is still so much more work to be done with law enforcement across the county. Dozens of states have inadequate hate crime statues on their books, while others have no state crime statute at all. Thousands of police departments either under report or do not report hate crimes to the Uniform Crime Report, and thousands of law enforcement professionals are unaware of the resources available to assist with their hate crime investigations and prosecutions. Trainings like these should be provided to and in partnership with police departments and state and local prosecutors’ offices all across the country.
The Stop Hate Project is proud to have helped facilitate this event and remains dedicated to making sure that together with our partners, the Matthew Shepard Foundation and Civil Rights Enforcement Associates, we can replicate this Summit with law enforcement professionals across the county. Trainings like these are key in fulfilling our mission to help communities prevent and respond more effectively to hate crimes across the country.
Justin Kwasa is a National Coordinator for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.