Police response key to fighting hate crimes

Noon. Rush Street. A man gets into a cab, asks to go to North and Wells. The driver is Pakistani. The passenger is white. And drunk.

He starts in at once, spitting at the driver, cursing, telling him, “Go back to your country, you camel jockey.” The driver tells him to be quiet. The slurs go on. The driver steps out of the cab and opens the back door, asking the passenger to get out. The passenger slams the door on the driver’s leg as he leaves, spits again and kicks a dent in the cab door.

The driver tells him he can’t just walk away. The passenger, a foot taller than the driver, then throws him on the cab — “like a police officer would,” says the cabbie — and beats him for 15 minutes, loosening some of his teeth.

This racial assault from February 1989, as described by the driver, court records and a witness, never was reported to Neighborhood Relations, the division of the Chicago Police Department that investigates racial crimes.

Police did not identify this as a bias crime, one motivated by race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. They did not charge the attacker with ethnic intimidation, a new charge which could have raised his sentence to several years in jail.

The state’s attorney added the charge and the passenger pleaded guilty. But the judge gave him only six months probation, which ends next month. The driver, who noted that his attacker was a brother of a Chicago policeman, now fears retaliation not only from his attacker but from police as well.

Since the beat patrol officer did not identify this as a racial crime, it was not counted in the city’s data, raising concern that bias crime is underreported. The case illustrates a major problem for Neighborhood Relations: The race relations experts on the force need beat officers to feed them cases, but beat officers have little training in recognizing bias crimes. If Neighborhood Relations is cut out of the investigative process, its expertise is lost to judges deciding whether to levy stiff sentences.

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Recent charges of police brutality have inflamed another problem: Some victims of bias crimes, especially minorities, may not report such attacks for fear of being victimized again — this time by police.

These problems may contribute to a mistrust of police that hinders the reporting of bias crimes. “Many minorities think they will not get justice through the justice system,” said 29th Ward Ald. Danny K. Davis. “If people feel that nothing is going to happen if they report the bias crimes, then people are more inclined to let it go by.”

Recognizing Bias

Neighborhood Relations Cmdr. Thomas Ferry spends only two hours with new police recruits in a year of training. He believes recruits should get more bias training, but is more concerned about veteran officers who were walking their beats long before bias laws were enacted. “Rather than the recruits, the trouble is getting the message to the ones that are already out there,” he said.

Those who monitor bias crimes worry that it may be difficult to change some officers’ beliefs that people get what they deserve when they stray into hostile areas.

“I have a lot of confidence in the Neighborhood Relations Division, but I don’t always have that confidence at some of the district levels,” said John Lukehart, who tracks bias for the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities, a Chicago fair housing group.

Even with the best of intentions, a beat officer may not have enough training to make the crucial decision that sets the city’s bias crime investigative process in motion. If an officer believes a bias crime has occurred, he must fill in a box on his report to send a copy to Neighborhood Relations.

“Sometimes it’s obvious when something’s a bias crime,” said Sgt. Thomas McKenna, who works in a South Side district. “But there are many times when it’s not so easy to tell. That’s what Ferry’s outfit is for.”

If Ferry is notified, he assigns investigators from his unit to the case. However, if the officer fails to fill in the box, a supervisor still may refer the case to Ferry. Failing that, Neighborhood Relations may be able to identify a case by reviewing a daily summary of serious crimes. But these summaries often lack critical details, such as the race of victims and attackers, that might trigger recognition of such a crime.

Among some groups, such as Asians, officers have particular difficulty in recognizing bias crimes. Police exacerbate tensions by treating Asians as a homogeneous bloc, not as diverse groups that have fought for centuries, said Lee Maglaya of the community group Asian Human Services.

“A Japanese officer can tell a Vietnamese from a Cambodian without any problem,” she said. “[Non-Asian] police cannot give accurate descriptions of Asians.”

Ferry agreed “there’s a strong possibility that beat cops would not recognize” racial conflicts among Asians. “If they’re happening now, we don’t get them.”

In addition, refugees from repressive nations may be hesitant to report hate crimes to Chicago police because of memories of police oppression in their countries. Police reported only five incidents of harassment of Asians, while Maglaya reported 30.

Central Americans also “associate authority with repression,” said Arturo Jauregui of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “The police department is not the place they want to go if they’ve had bad experiences that remind them of Guatemala and El Salvador.”

Gays also believe that bias crimes against them are underreported by the police. Horizons Community Services, a gay and lesbian social service group, received 179 reports of anti-gay crimes in 1989, and said 85 were reported to police. Police reported only two.

The gap did not surprise Tara Hardy, director of Horizons’ anti-violence project. “It’s a combination of not enough information, not enough education and blatant hostility and resistance [among police] to filing the reports as bias crimes,” she said.

Many officers are reluctant to ask difficult questions, Ferry said. “If you think that a person is gay, how do you draw that out?” asked Ferry, who is on the board of Hardy’s project. “We don’t want policemen going in demanding, ‘Are you gay?’”

Gays and lesbians who are harassed should tell officers to send reports to Neighborhood Relations, he said. But Hardy said, “It’s not the responsibility of the crime victim to make sure that the system works, it’s the system’s responsibility.” Hardy said many gays and lesbians are afraid to report these events, fearing police harassment. Hardy reported 35 calls of police harassment of gays and lesbians in 1989.

Police Brutality

Reports of such harassment contribute to an image of rising police brutality, often motivated by bias. Mayor Richard M. Daley’s black critics in the city council led brutality hearings in September after several well-publicized racial cases last summer.

In August, two white officers allegedly beat and abandoned two black teen-agers in mostly white Canaryville, where whites attacked them; the son of a Hispanic policeman also reported being attacked by white officers. In September, a black policeman in South Chicago killed Leonard Bannister, a black gang leader, when he reportedly grabbed the officer’s gun.

Despite these high-profile cases, the Office of Professional Standards (OPS), the civilian agency that investigates police brutality, reported a slight drop in reports of excessive force: 2,442 in 1988, compared with 2,319 in 1989. In each year, OPS found 139 of those reports to be valid. No data are kept on how many involved charges of bias.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported in January that two police audits found that OPS mishandled claims of brutality; 40 percent of the investigations failed to meet police thoroughness standards. The city council may hold hearings in March to consider disbanding OPS and firing its director, David Fogel.

OPS officials say it is not surprising that minorities think brutality is worse in their areas. “Where you have high incidences of crime, you have contact [with police] of an adversarial nature,” OPS administrator Robert Bright said. “Where you have that adversarial contact, you have a higher rate of complaints against the police.”

But these charges, even if untrue, “bring about hostility and suspicion and lack of trust,” which may cause people not to report bias crimes, said Mary Powers of the police watchdog group Citizens Alert.

Easing Community Tensions

Though it does not probe police racism, Neighborhood Relations was called in to ease tension after the Canaryville incident. Its officers can better calm racial tensions than beat officers, Ferry said, as they are older and have solid community contacts. Most monitors of bias crimes praised the unit.

Neighborhood Relations, created in 1948, is actually two units. Human Relations is called in to investigate bias crimes. The more visible unit under Ferry’s command visits schools, block clubs and other groups.

The bias crime unit has been an investigative unit since 1986; before that, it just decided if a bias crime had occurred and then turned the case over to detectives outside the division. With a $500,000 budget, Ferry’s bias unit includes nine white officers, nine blacks, one Hispanic and one Asian. By contrast, more than 70 percent of the other 11,900 police officers are white.

Largely due to Neighborhood Relations, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, which developed bias crime guidelines used nationwide, rated Chicago among the top five cities in handling hate crimes. Others are New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

Boston created the nation’s first hate crimes unit in 1978. New York City Police Department’s bias unit was started in 1980. With twice Chicago’s racial incidents, the NYPD requires all officers to take bias training; recruits get 12 hours of such training.

A Possible Deterrent

Penalties for racial assaults can be higher than those for other attacks. If someone is found guilty of mob action (an assault by two or more people against one person), he or she may serve six months to a year in prison. But if an ethnic intimidation charge is added, the sentence can reach up to five years. In 1989, police records show ethnic intimidation was charged 23 times; the courts reached seven guilty verdicts so far.

But as in the attack on the Pakistani cab driver, the penalty is not automatic. Judges have the option to add time to probation or jail when a crime is motivated by bias, but they are not required to do so.

Many judges and police officers do not understand the ethnic intimidation law, Maglaya said. After a racial attack, “We need assault and battery and ethnic intimidation charged, not just assault,” she said. “Most police will not charge both.”

The charge does little good if it is never used. To reach officers unable or unwilling to report hate crimes, Ferry plans to use a new video system to address all the officers at roll calls. With the first tape ready to roll next month, he said, the views of some officers slowly may be changed.

“A police officer’s got a million things on his mind,” Ferry said, “so you’ve got to reinforce it, and keep reinforcing it. We are attempting to get the message out there, that we’ve got to deal seriously with bias crimes. It’s a hard message to get out.”