December 4, 2019 — Chicago
This piece originally appeared in Crain's Chicago Business.
By Jason Rosensweig and Laurence Bolotin
Alarm bells were ringing for many among our city’s Jewish population when Chicago’s Human Relations Commissioner Mona Noriega announced that hate crimes so far this year are up 60% from 2018. We obtained the hate-crime stats from the Chicago Police Department via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, and our analysis shows a more modest, but still troubling, 26% rise since the beginning of the year.
The CPD data is even more disturbing. While Jews comprise only 4% of our city’s population they have been the targets of 81% of all religion-motivated hate crimes in Chicago — an increase of 70% since last year.
Rising antisemitism is not unique to Chicago. A new national survey by AJC, released last month, shows that 88% of American Jews believe antisemitism is a problem in the U.S. today, and more than a third revealed that they hide their Jewishness out of concern for their safety.
In sum, American Jews are feeling rattled, in ways they had not before this year, highlighted by the fatal attacks on synagogues in Pittsburgh last year and Poway, California in April. The New York Police Department reported in September that hate crimes are up 63% this year, compared to 2018, and more than half of all hate crimes in the city in 2019 are antisemitic.
The recent arrest of a white supremacist planning to bomb a synagogue in Colorado, growing antisemitism targeting American Jews on college campuses (including at the University of Illinois) and last May’s attack on a synagogue in Lakeview with (thankfully defective) Molotov cocktails are only a few examples of the threats prompting concern and vigilance.
Combating hate requires a multi-pronged approach. For starters, it is essential that law enforcement, elected officials, and engaged civil-society groups have access to readily available, properly sourced, and competently analyzed facts about hate crimes. No such information source currently exists for Chicago.
National hate crimes data collection has weaknesses, too. For instance, only 13% of the nation’s law enforcement agencies submit any hate crimes data to the FBI. Municipalities such as Miami report zero hate crimes. The result of voluntary participation by police departments in sharing data is that another arm of the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Statistics, estimates that while the FBI’s annual report counted about 7,000 hate crimes nationally in 2018, the true number could be as high as 250,000, due to severe underreporting.
We simply cannot comprehend and address this problem without more accurate and accessible data. The NO HATE Act, currently being considered by both the Senate and the House, would provide grants to municipalities and states to create hate-crime reporting practices and structures, and add additional penalties for individuals convicted under prior hate crimes acts. We applaud Senator Dick Durbin for signing on as a cosponsor, and urge the rest of the Illinois congressional delegation to do the same.
Chicago does not need national legislation to improve its own monitoring and reporting of hate crimes. Currently, to simply access local hate crimes statistics, one must not only request the data via a FOIA request, but also clean, decode, and analyze it. The material is not well organized by categories identifying targets or types of crimes. A more transparent system, providing accurate data, would enable the City to develop and implement more effective responses.
When, according to AJC’s survey, 84 percent of American Jews say antisemitism has increased over the last five years, when 21 percent report being a target of antisemitism, and when 25 percent avoid certain places out of concern for their safety, it is essential that our city, with the nation’s third-largest Jewish population, take steps now to guard against the rise of hate and prejudice, and develop a comprehensive strategy to combating antisemitism and other hatred in our diverse city.
That still requires reliable data. The last time the city of Chicago issued a report analyzing hate crimes was in 2005. Beginning this year, the appropriate agencies must collaborate on analyzing and producing annual reports on hate crimes in Chicago.
Chicago is not immune to antisemitism and all types of hate. Antisemitism and other forms of bigotry are unacceptable. Let’s all work together to address the problem.
Jason Rosensweig is assistant director for Advocacy and International Affairs and Laurence Bolotin is director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Chicago region.