Stricter hate crime bill passes state legislature, protects dorms

Amy Hamblin and Amy Hamblin

>A bill written in response to hateful acts on Northwestern’s campus last year that would stiffen penalties for hate crimes passed the Illinois State Senate on Wednesday. The stricter penalties for instances of hate that occur on college campuses will be implemented if Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich signs the bill into law.

State Rep. Lou Lang (D-16th District) authored the bill that reclassifies hate crimes, along with naming dorms and educational facilities protected areas.

Hate crimes are Class 5 felonies but would be reclassified as Class 4 felonies if the bill — which passed the State House of Representatives in March — is signed into law.

The bill also would add educational buildings to the list of protected areas for hate crimes. Hate crimes committed in protected areas, such as places of worship, are Class 3 felonies, which carry longer sentences.

“The impetus to write this at this time because of these incidents at Northwestern,” Lang said. “The swastikas that were drawn on people’s doors led me to extend hate crime protection.”

Lang said the bill eventually might have been written without the incidents at NU but it would not have happened for a long time.

Blagojevich has 90 days to sign the bill into law, which Lang said he expects will occur.

“It’s an important step forward,” Lang said. “The Illinois Assembly stands squarely against hate crimes.”

Although he said the bill makes a statement, he doubts it will reduce the number of crimes.

“I don’t know that the nuance from Class 4 to Class 3 will convince people who commit these crimes not to do them,” Lang said. “Frankly, most people don’t know about the penalty.”

Perpetrators of Class 4 felonies receive one to three years, compared to two to five years for Class 3 offenses, said Karen Daniel, an assistant professor at NU’s Law School.

Zach Benjamin, an NU student who co-authored a different resolution against hate crimes that’s being considered by state representatives, said he is appreciative and impressed by Lang’s actions to respond to the issue.

“To me (the bill) indicates that our voices are being heard in Springfield,” said Benjamin, a Communication junior.

Although he applauds the new bill, he still thinks there is a need for his own resolution, which asks for a commitment from the state government to take more decisive legislation to curtail hate crime on college campuses. State Rep. Julie Hamos (D-18th District) said she would sponsor the bill if it gets through the legislative reference bureau.

Former Hillel Cultural Life President Kenny Ecker said he is unsure if the legislation is enough.

“Legislators aren’t on a college campus. They don’t see what happens,” said Ecker, a Weinberg junior. “Without that firsthand knowledge I don’t know how they can actually change the law to a large extent. We know how much it hurts.”

Meredith Kesner, the former president of Students for Israel, said not only the state but university officials need to take more action.

“There’s a need for more diversity and tolerance, not just in words but in actions,” said Kesner. “We still have a lot to learn about all the communities on campus.”

The Daily’s Erin Stock contributed to this report.