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Thursday, March 18, 2010 01:04 am

Noose incidents spark hate symbols bill

Proposed legislation would ban nooses and swastikas

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Prompted by incidents of racism in Springfield, legislation in the General Assembly to ban the display of hate symbols on public and private property passed a House committee March 12, crossing the first hurdle to becoming law.

Jonathan Lackland, executive director of the Illinois Association of Minorities in Government said the bill is a reaction to the infamous “noose incidents” perpetrated at City Water, Light and Power facilities during summer 2009, as well as an incident of racially motivated vandalism at a building housing the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus in Springfield.

“Here it is 2010, and in 2010, we’re dealing with issues we dealt with 50-plus years ago,” Lackland said. “It’s very tough when a man sees a symbol that literally has become a virulent form of intimidation in many peoples’ lives. A swastika is something that has become very derogatory towards people who are Jewish; the noose has become derogatory towards persons who are African-American.”

The bill would make it a Class 3 felony to display nooses and swastikas or desecrate religious symbols on public or private property without written consent from the property owner and with the intent to intimidate or harass others. It is an expansion of the current law banning the burning of crosses, which passed in 2004. Class 3 felonies carry a penalty of between two and 10 years in prison, though Lackland said the bill may be amended to make such crimes misdemeanors rather than felonies.

Establishing displays of hate symbols as a crime would have resulted in more appropriate discipline for those responsible for the noose incidents at CWLP, Lackland said. The three men responsible for those incidents received 60-day suspensions from work, though the suspension days were not consecutive. A grand jury found no cause to charge the men with a crime.

“We feel, considering what had happened here in Springfield with the city, had this law been in effect, it would have been easier for the mayor to make a more definitive decision than what he did,” Lackland said.

Rep. Esther Golar, D-Chicago, sponsored the bill, saying it sends a message to hate groups that such actions are unacceptable.

“I think it allows people to know that someone is watching what they’re doing,” Golar said. “People don’t want to believe that these kinds of things are happening, but it’s real. Ever since President (Barack) Obama has been in office, hate crimes have risen nationwide. He gets 40 to 50 death threats a day himself. As we go forth, these types of things have to be addressed.”

Golar said that Mike Williams, the CWLP employee who was targeted by a noose hanging in July 2009, had been intimidated and threatened into avoiding the committee hearing.

“He is unable to come here now because of all the harassment he’s received on his job,” Golar said. “He is presently not able to come before this committee because he fears for his life, because of the intimidation.”

HB5835 passed the House Judicial II Criminal Law committee by a vote of 7-0 and awaits a vote before the full House, which Golar said could happen within the next two weeks. If it passes the House, it must go through the same process in the Senate before being sent to the governor for final approval.

Mike Williams issued a public statement after the bill passed committee, saying he would pursue similar legislation nationwide and even before the United Nations.

“This symbol, which was used for mass killings of blacks in our history as well as the weapon used to hang blacks in 1908 during the Springfield race riots, has no place in society 102 years later,” Williams said. “It symbolizes hate, death, fear and intimidation.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.
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