Sweeping decline in hate crimes

The news: In September, a Cook County jury awarded a Puerto Rican family more than a half-million dollars in damages against a Northwest Side neighbor for a hate crime.

Behind the news: Hate crimes in Chicago have decreased 66 percent to 72 reported cases in 2008, according to the Chicago Police Department. The reported numbers peaked in 2001 with 215 cases.

“Nationalistic” hate crimes saw the biggest drop, down 88 percent to nine last year from 75 reported cases in 2001, while racially motivated crimes decreased almost 50 percent to 32 reported cases in 2008 from 63 reported cases in 2001.

Through August of this year, 42 cases of hate crimes have been reported, while 55 hate crimes were recorded during the same period last year.

Christina Abraham, civil rights director for the Illinois Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, pointed out that the number of hate crimes tends to fluctuate.

“Every time something abroad or domestically happens relating to terrorism, we see there’s a spike in hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims because people will discriminate against them –¦ on that basis,” she said.

Kenneth Gunn, first deputy commissioner at the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, said fear of authority and language barriers sometimes prevent victims, especially among firstgeneration immigrants, from reporting a hate crime.

“Depending on the country of origin and depending on the relationship [immigrants] have with the authorities, they come to our country with the same assumptions,” he said.

To combat these assumptions, the commission has eight advisory councils, which are designed to function as intermediaries between police and immigrants, Gunn said. The council members, he said, “are able to reach a lot more people that normally we would not be able to.”

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