Follow @MaryMitchellCSTLast week, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan convened a summit with local civil rights leaders to address the fear caused by President Trump’s immigration executive orders.
Unlike a lot of other summits, it wasn’t just talk.
Madigan announced new hate-crimes legislation: Illinois House Bill 3711, which would ensure all “victims of hate crimes are afforded the ability to file” civil lawsuits and potentially obtain monetary damages “in response to incidents such as intimidation, stalking, cyberstalking and transmission of obscene messages.”
Nationally, there was a wave of hate crimes in the immediate aftermath of the election of Donald Trump as president, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. That organization reported 1,094 bias incidents within the first 34 days.
But in the Chicago area, the number of hate crimes isn’t at all clear — unlike the number of people shot and killed in the city last year.
The Council on American Islamic Relations had 400 incidents of discrimination reported to its office in 2016. “Those numbers include school bullying, travel delays, law enforcement harassment, employment discrimination and hate,” said Sufyan Sohel, deputy director of CAIR-Chicago. Thus far in 2017, the number of incidents reported to CAIR-Chicago total 175, with a large amount involving travel issues.
Neither the Chicago Commission on Human Rights nor the Chicago Police Department have recent statistics on hate crimes readily available, either.
Still, the images of immigrants and refugees being turned away from the nation’s borders was enough to get politicians here moving on hate-crime legislation.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked that way when it comes to the city’s gun violence.
Follow @MaryMitchellCSTSpeaking at a city of Chicago luncheon in August, state. Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, said he would propose a “data-driven” bill in the Illinois General Assembly to crack down on repeat gun offenders.
Besides Raoul, state Reps. Elgie Sims Jr., D-Chicago; Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, and state Sen. Tony Munoz, D-Chicago, have been working on the legislation since fall 2016.
But as Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson points out, a bill to stiffen penalties for repeat gun offenders has still not been introduced in Springfield.
“What a lot of people don’t realize about legislation, it just doesn’t happen overnight. Sometime it could take up in a couple of years for legislation to take place in a way that it will be supported enough to become law,” Raoul told me.
“I have been working on something more targeted in its approach than having a wide net approach that catches up lot of people,” he said, pointing out that “we are suggesting a significant enhancement at a time when the legislature has “embraced the notion of trying to reduce the prison population by 25 percent in 10 years.”
“I am hopeful that we can get it [legislation] done in the next couple of weeks,” Raoul said.
Meanwhile, Chicago ended 2016 with 780 homicides, the most in two decades, and 103 people have been killed since the beginning of the year.
As legislators labor over language that would be acceptable at a time when criminal-justice reforms are being hotly debated nationwide, repeat gun offenders are taking advantage of our lax gun laws.
I agree with Raoul that one piece of legislation that puts a repeat gun offender in prison for a longer time, by itself, is not going to solve the violence problem.
Still, it could help police keep unrepentant gun offenders off our streets.
Just as the Democrats are aggressively moving to protect a vulnerable immigrant population against unfair policy, they should show a sense of urgency in protecting the lives of innocent people at risk because of rampant gun violence.
If nothing is done, soon, Democrats run the risk of President Trump catching them flat-footed, again.