An attack on a Sikh man in the suburbs recently highlighted the issue of hate crimes in the Chicago area.

The attacker allegedly called the victim, who wears a turban, a “terrorist” and was initially charged with felony aggravated battery. Later the teen suspect was charged with committing a hate crime, a Class 4 felony. The victim’s family and civil rights groups had called for a hate crime prosecution.

An examination of data from the FBI and Illinois State Police indicates that hate crimes might be on the upswing in Chicago and Cook County. In 2013, 45 hate crimes were reported in Chicago, more than double the number in each of the three years before.

All of the law enforcement agencies in Cook County combined logged 60 hate crimes in 2013, up from 45 in 2012 and 21 in 2011, according to data collected by the Illinois State Police.

The FBI measures hate crimes as crimes against a person, property or society that were motivated by bias toward the victim’s race, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity. In 2013, they added crimes motivated by bias against a person’s gender or gender-identity, but Chicago reported no crimes in either of the new categories.

The number of crimes motivated by race and sexual orientation both jumped significantly in Chicago, in 2013, the most recent year for which FBI statistics are available. Racially motivated crimes jumped from to 22 in 2013 from 3 in 2012, and crimes based on sexual orientation jumped to 18 in 2013 from 8 a year earlier.

In March, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez formed a new Hate Crimes Advisory and Prosecutions Council to raise awareness and improve the response to hate crimes in Cook County.

Source: Illinois State Police Uniform Crime Reports

Hate crimes still constitute a tiny number of overall crimes; there were fewer than 0.02 hate crimes per 1,000 people in Chicago in 2013.

It’s hard to know if the increase in hate crimes is due to more incidents or just better reporting of them, said Lonnie Nasatir, regional director for the upper Midwest region of the Anti-Defamation League.

“There’s a sense of alarm whenever you see numbers going up,” Nasatir said. But, he added, “Chicago has gotten much better at accurately reporting hate crimes. We’ve really hit home to local law enforcement that, when hate crimes happen, to report it.”

Racially motivated hate crimes are the most common: they make up just under half of all hate crimes, both in Chicago and nationally.

The official numbers are probably conservative because of the high bar that must be reached to constitute a hate crime for statistical purposes. Hate crimes are only those where a law enforcement agency concludes that the offender’s actions were motivated by that person’s bias. Simple evidence that the person holds a bias is not enough.

Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reports

In addition, the FBI collects data on only 19 specific offenses, including murder and manslaughter, rape, assault, burglary, damage to property and theft, among others. Until 2014, the Illinois State Police collected data on four additional types of offenses not in the FBI data: criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, harassment and mob action. Those crimes were dropped for 2014 in order to make state data more consistent with federal data.

For that reason, the statewide data—which show a 23 percent decline from 2013 to 2014—may be misleading, because those four crimes made up about a quarter of all hate crimes in 2013.

Home page photo credit: Hate crimes /

Jonah is a reporter for The Chicago Reporter. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @jonahshai.

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