Kevin Vodak Presents on Hate Crime Prosecution to Law Enforcement Officials

By Ben Small

CAIR-Chicago Litigation Director Kevin Vodak presented the “Hate Crime and Bias Awareness” conference on September 15th, 2011 to discuss the ways in which law enforcement agencies can improve their procedures and techniques in addressing hate crimes. The conference, which took place at the Center on Halsted, an LGBT community center at 3656 North Halstead, was organized by the Office of Illinois Attorney General in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice and hosted both state and local law enforcement as well as state’s attorneys.

The consensus of the conference was that hate crimes are drastically under-reported. The FBI generates reports on both numbers and types of hate crimes from participating local law enforcement agencies nationwide. However, of the 14,422 agencies in the program in 2009, only 15 percent reported any kind of hate crime at all. This percentage misrepresents the amount of hate crime that transpires countrywide.

With regards to anti-Muslim incidents, there were 107 incidents in 2009, which was a minor increase from the 105 incidents reported in 2008. Evidence suggests that many anti-Islamic hate crimes go undocumented, whether due to the underreporting of incidents by the victims or the under-recording by law enforcement officials. The statistics for 2010 are expected to show large increases in anti-Muslim hate crimes due to rising Islamophobia stemming from high profile campaigns by popular anti-Islam hate figures such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Gellar. In particular, the controversy surrounding the Park51 Islamic Center near Ground Zero created a large amount of hateful fervor.

Vodak sat on a panel alongside two gay rights activists, Candice Hart from Illinois Gender Advocates and Lisa Gilmore from the Center on Halsted, as well as Matt Nosanchuk from the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division of the US Attorney General’s Office.

Vodak explained the story of Amal Abusumayah, a victim of a hate crime in Tinley Park in November 2009, as an example of how to effectively prosecute perpetrators of hate crimes. Abusumayah was shopping at a Jewel grocery store when Valerie Kenney, 54-year old banker, shouted derogatory remarks about Muslims, in reference to the recent Fort Hood shooting, before later trying to pull off Abusumayah’s headscarf. Initially Abusumayah was reluctant to press charges, “I just wanted to forget about the whole thing,” she had explained. “These things are quite common. I thought telling the police was enough.”

Upon later reflection she felt that women don’t report these crimes because they see no point and would rather let the incident slide. She then decided to press charges to send a message that actions such as those of Kenney are completely unacceptable. CAIR-Chicago advocated on behalf of Abusumayah and generated media coverage of the incident in order for her message to reach the general public.

On January 5, 2010, Kenney was charged with battery and aspects of the Hate Crimes Law sentencing guidelines were incorporated into her sentence. She was sentenced to 2-years probation, 200 hours of community service and a $2,500 fine. Furthermore, she apologized in court to Abusumayah, her family and the Muslim community.

The prosecution of Kenney is a strong example of how hate crimes should be prosecuted in order to educate against ignorance and challenge Islamophobia. Vodak hopes his suggestions to the law enforcement officials in attendance will be taken into consideration and used as a framework for action in both Illinois and nationwide.