When hateful behaviors surface in public, there sometimes are protests. There are calls for change. There are reactions.
But a new hate crimes law signed Tuesday by Gov. Bruce Rauner should help the state ward off hate crimes instead of responding to them when it's too late, says one of the law's co-authors, attorney Sadia Covert of Naperville.
"It's a part of prevention instead of reaction," Covert said Wednesday about the law, which amends the criminal code of 2012 to require diversity education for hate crime offenders and gives victims a new way to fight back.
The law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, will require people convicted of hate crimes to attend in-person training to understand the culture or religion of the group their offense affected. It will extend hate crimes protection to the exterior of religious buildings, remove a $1,000 cap on restitution for victims of hate crimes and allow victims to seek damages through civil court.
The definition of a hate crime remains one committed because of a bias against someone in a Constitutionally-protected class, including because of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ancestry, disability, physical or mental status, or national origin.
State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, an Oswego Democrat, and state Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat, sponsored the bill in their respective chambers, which both passed it before it was sent to the governor.
For Covert, 34, passage of the law is the first step of a plan she devised after an attack on a Lombard mosque in 2014 motivated her to take a stand against hate crimes. She calls it "fight hate with ATE," which stands for amend, train and educate.
"Now that the law has been amended," she said, "we're moving on to training."
Covert is certified as a police instructor and said she is working with the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board to schedule sessions about the law.
She is pursuing the educational component of her plan through a nonprofit organization called UCARE, which stands for Uniting Through Cultural Awareness and Regional Education. The organization provides trained speakers who can educate groups on cultures and religious practices without promoting or endorsing any specific ideology.
"The agenda is unity," Covert said. "We all unite together as one to counter hate and bigotry in society through education."
UCARE and similar organizations across the state, along with colleges and universities, are likely to host the diversity education hate crime offenders will be required to complete, Covert said.
In a time when hateful actions continue to make national news, Covert said UCARE is growing. For details, visit ucarespeaks.org or email email@example.com.