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Lisa Madigan calls for stronger hate crime laws

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan Madigan (second from right) ohosted a “summit” at the Thompson Center on Thursday, with a panel of leaders from two dozen advocacy groups, ranging from the Jewish United Fund to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, to Lambda Legal and the National Immigrant Justice Center. | Maria Cardona/ Sun-Times

Responding to what she called a spike in reports of harassment and vandalism targeting Jews, Muslims and other minorities, Attorney General Lisa Madigan is calling for legislation that would broaden Illinois hate crime laws.

Madigan on Thursday hosted a “summit” at the Thompson Center, with a panel of leaders from two dozen advocacy groups, ranging from the Jewish United Fund to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, to Lambda Legal and the National Immigrant Justice Center. The disparate groups were concerned about an increase in hostility toward Muslims, immigrants and LGBTQ people they claim has coincided with Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency.

“We just had active-shooter training at our office, because we also realize that we have to keep our people safe,” said Kim Fountain, chief operating officer of Center on Halsted, an LGBTQ rights organization. “It scared a lot of our staff, but we had to do it.”

Madigan is backing legislation that would make electronic harassment on Facebook, Twitter or other social media a prosecutable offense, and also would give her office the power to pursue civil damages for victims of hate crimes.

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Madigan’s office receives complaints about harassment targeting minorities through the AG’s civil rights department, internet crimes and consumer affairs offices.

Online is “where you’re see a lot of [harassment] taking place,” Madigan said. “It’s not just among kids anymore. It’s equal opportunity on the internet. It’s a very high volume of the complaints we get.”

The legislation is sponsored by state Rep. Litesa Wallace, D-Rockford and state Sen. Omar Aquino, D-Chicago.

The meeting fell on the day Trump’s administration announced it was withdrawing protections for transgender students that had allowed them to use the bathroom that corresponded to their gender identity. And that followed weeks of executive branch action that has restricted immigration from some Muslim countries and promised tougher enforcement of immigration laws.

The Jewish community also has seen an uptick in vandalism and threats in Chicago and nationwide, said Jane Charney, of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Community Relations Council, citing a bomb threat this week that prompted the evacuation of the Jewish Community Center in Hyde Park, and the arrest of a man who put swastika stickers on the doors of the Chicago Loop Synagogue, before smashing windows on the building.

Stuart Wright, 31, faces a hate crime charge for allegedly inflicting the damage.