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July 14, 1999

Hate Crimes Commission Convenes, Sets Action For Autumn

CHICAGO -- Governor George H. Ryan today instructed the state's first-ever Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crimes to prepare a package of recommendations and strategies within the next few weeks to help law enforcement, schools, local governments and community groups combat hate-based violence.

"I want the commission's recommendations for legislative action on my desk by the time the General Assembly returns to work for veto session so that changes can be introduced for action this fall," Ryan said.

The 40-member commission, composed of law enforcement, religious leaders, community leaders, local government officials and legislators, held its inaugural meeting today.

"I wish I didn't have to create a commission on discrimination and hate crimes," the governor added. "But as the events of the last weeks have shown us, we need to do all we can to promote understanding and to fight discrimination and hate before it turns into violence."

Over the Independence Day weekend, police allege that 21-year-old Benjamin N. Smith targeted African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Orthodox Jews in a random shooting spree that claimed the lives of two people and injured several others. Last weekend, as he was being chased by police in Salem, Smith shot and killed himself.

Ryan created the Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crimes in February to foster education efforts and help implement policies and state laws that battle violence and acts of discrimination which are based on ethnicity, religion, skin color, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

"Last week's shootings in West Rogers Park, in Skokie, in Northbrook, Springfield, Decatur, Urbana and Bloomington, Indiana, were more than a mere wake-up call on the danger before us," Ryan said. "It was a painful reminder that one person full of hate can terrify entire neighborhoods, congregations, towns and the whole state."

The Commission will work with law enforcement, the courts, religious leaders, schools, community organizations and social service agencies to foster acceptance and tolerance; and will work to educate people on ways they can fight discrimination and hate-motivated violence.

In addition, the commission is charged with developing strategies to help local communities and the people of Illinois use and better understand the state's existing criminal laws regarding hate crimes and discrimination.

Since the early 1990s, Illinois has had one of the nation's toughest hate crime laws, addressing crimes such as aggravated assault, battery, theft, criminal trespassing, disorderly conduct and telephone harassment committed because of the victim's race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation or disability. Violating the hate crime law is a felony.


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