Friday, January 8, 2010

Chicago criminal lawyer comments on hate crimes

This Chicago criminal lawyer is married to a man from "across the pond". Sometimes, that makes for some interesting conversations that I think are based on different cultures or as he frequently quotes George Bernard Shaw, "two countries separated by a common language".

We've had a recurrent conversation about hate crimes over several years. Like many, he thinks a crime, is a crime, is a crime and hate crimes, as a separate category of offense, serves to divide our country. American notions of meritocracy, diversity, and tolerance attracted him to give our life a try. Unfortunately, our globally exported notions of America run up against its real and polar opposites as recently occurred.

A suburban Chicago woman has been charged with a hate crime for allegedly yanking the head scarf of a Muslim woman in Tinley Park two days after the shootings at Fort Hood, Texas.

Valerie Kenney, 54, a bank teller from Tinley Park, appeared at the BridgeviewCourthouse today and was released on $5,000 bail. If convicted of the felony, Kenney faces up to 3 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. She is due back in court Dec. 3.

Amal Abusumayah, 28, told police she was shopping at a Tinley Park grocery store Nov. 7 when a middle-age woman passed her in the aisle and made a loud reference to the killings at Fort Hood.

"She said, 'The man that did that shooting in Texas was from the Middle East,' in a really loud and angry voice," Abusumayah told the Tribune last week. Minutes later, while Abusumayah was paying for her groceries at a self-checkout, the woman approached her from behind and tugged hard on her blue and beige head scarf, she said.

"I turned around and looked at her, and she walked out of the store," she said. "My scarf didn't come off because it was on very tight, but my head was tugged back."

Abusumayah, who was born in the United States and raised in Berwyn by Palestinian immigrants, followed the woman into the lot and called police, who arrested Kenney within minutes.

Illinois does have a hate crime statute:

720 ILCS 5/12-7.1

(a) A person commits hate crime when, by reason of the actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or national origin of another individual or group of individuals, regardless of the existence of any other motivating factor or factors, he commits assault, battery, aggravated assault, misdemeanor theft, criminal trespass to residence, misdemeanor criminal damage to property, criminal trespass to vehicle, criminal trespass to real property, mob action or disorderly conduct as these crimes are defined in Sections 12‑1, 12‑2, 12‑3, 16‑1, 19‑4, 21‑1, 21‑2, 21‑3, 25‑1, and 26‑1 of this Code, respectively, or harassment by telephone as defined in Section 1‑1 of the Harassing and Obscene Communications Act, or harassment through electronic communications as defined in clauses (a)(2) and (a)(4) of Section 1‑2 of the Harassing and Obscene Communications Act.
(b) Except as provided in subsection (b‑5), hate crime is a Class 4 felony for a first offense and a Class 2 felony for a second or subsequent offense.

Yes it is fairly difficult for the state to prevail on this charge. For example, a male rapist with a female victim could be charged with a hate crime right? However given the history of this country, e.g. cross burnings, it is not far-fetched that law makers would want to treat those crimes differently from run-of-the-mill property damage cases.

Earlier this week, there was a plea:

On Tuesday, Kenney pled guilty to misdemeanor battery. And Cook County prosecutors dropped a hate-crime charge. The judge ordered probation, a $2,500 fine, community service and diversity training.

Abusumayah, 28, says she wasn’t looking for anything harsher.

ABUSUMAYAH: She has a family. She has a life. It’s just a lesson for her to be learned.

She does hope the case sends a message.

ABUSUMAYAH: We should not have to worry about being attacked in America. We are all Americans. We all know our rights.

There's a victim of a crime not looking for a pound of flesh. I wonder how many of us would be so generous if the same thing happened to us?

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