Schakowsky, speakers track hate speech in the U.S.


Spencer Allan/The Daily Northwestern

Four speakers address a crowd during a Q&A. The event, hosted by the Democratic Party of Evanston, focused on hate speech in the United States.

Spencer Allan, Reporter

On Thursday night, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Evanston), emphasized the dangers of hate speech locally and nationally.

Schakowsky was one of four speakers at “Fighting Hate Speech in the United States,” an event sponsored by the Democratic Party of Evanston at Evanston Township High School. The speakers, including Schakowsky, saw President Donald Trump as a key factor for the rise of hate speech and hate groups in the United States.

“President Trump is the proliferator of hate speech himself,” Schakowsky told The Daily. “He has excused not only hate speech but action.”

Speaking alongside the congresswoman was Lecia Brooks of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Kelley Szany of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Dr. G. Kwesi Logan, a consultant for workplace diversity and culture. Brooks began the forum by discussing the hate groups her organization tracked.

Thirty-one of those hate groups had been identified in Illinois, some of them part of the recent and rapid rise of white nationalist groups in the United States. In 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center recorded a 50 percent increase in the number of white nationalist groups in the United States.

“Hate is in every state in the country,” Brooks said. “There were 1,020 active hate groups we identified.”

Szany shifted focus, addressing global cases of hate speech, including the recent proliferation of hate speech directed toward Rohingya Muslims on Facebook.

Logan, meanwhile, discussed his efforts to bring awareness of hate speech to the Evanston/Skokie School District 65, after his son was the target of a racial slur.

“Hateful language spoken by our children in District 65 is prevalent,” Logan said. “We have a problem at the staff level, we have a problem with our parents and we have a problem with our district.”

Spencer Allan/The Daily Northwestern
Lecia Brooks of the Southern Poverty Law Center gives “a call to action” to ETHS senior Isaac Slevin, addressing the importance of diversity and open discussion.

Schakowsky rounded out the speakers by discussing her own motivations for pursuing legislation against hate speech, referencing a CNN article which she co-authored with U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

Published after a public apology Omar gave for what were considered anti-Semitic remarks, the article reconciles her and Schakowsky in the fight against religious hate speech.

“I feel particularly sensitive to this issue as a Jew,” Schakowsky told The Daily. “Jews and Muslims are two sides of the same coin of bigotry. This is a priority.”

Schakowsky also discussed proposed hate speech legislation. One such bill, the Disarm Hate Act, blocks people previously convicted of hate crimes from purchasing firearms.

At the end of the forum, Schakowsky focused on the importance of students in affecting policy. She cited efforts by Florida students to increase gun control following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that killed 17 people in February 2018.

Schakowsky addressed members of the ETHS debate team on stage and other students in the room, stressing the importance of their efforts.

“We need to help amplify your voices and your experiences,” Schakowsky said at the forum. “We need to make sure you have a platform to speak out on these issues. You live in a world that is much more tolerant than that of many older people.”

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A previous version of this story misspelled the name of an Evanston Township High School senior. His name is Isaac Slevin. The Daily regrets the error.