A House criminal law committee Friday approved without opposition House Bill 5835 to make it a crime to use a hate symbol to intimidate or harass someone. The measure now heads to the full House.

Law enforcement would have more tools available to them under a measure moving ahead at the Capitol that's inspired by noose hangings last summer in Springfield.


A House criminal law committee Friday approved without opposition House Bill 5835 to make it a crime to use a hate symbol to intimidate or harass someone. The measure now heads to the full House.


This measure comes after two incidents last summer made headlines.


Three Springfield City Water, Light and Power employees each received a 60-day unpaid suspension after two separate noose incidents in the department.


Mike Williams, the black CWLP worker who discovered the first noose, told police that he left work on July 22 and returned July 26 to find a white rope tied into a "hangman noose."


The second incident involved another employee who allegedly hung a noose from a forklift.


A grand jury in September decided not to indict the men on any criminal charges.


Rep. Esther Golar, D-Chicago, said the idea was based on the incidents at CWLP and the discovery of racial graffiti on the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus office building.


The person would be charged under the measure if they intend to intimidate a person based on their "religion, national origin, alienage, color, race, sex, sexual orientation, physical disability, or mental disability" by displaying a noose, drawing a Nazi swastika or burning a cross on public or private property.


Williams issued a statement Friday afternoon saying he was pleased the bill passed the committee and would continue to follow its progress. He said he would promote noose legislation nationally and worldwide.


"This symbol, which was used for the mass killings of blacks in our history as well as the weapon used to hang blacks in 1908 during the Springfield race riots, has no place in society 102 years later," Williams said. "It symbolizes hate, death, fear and intimidation."


Williams is in mediation with the city over legal action he brought after the incident.


Jonathan Lackland, executive director of the Illinois Association of Minorities in Government, said the incidents in Springfield were the catalyst to pursue legislation that already exists in 12 states.


"This is not going to go away until and unless we have a law in place," he said.


Lackland said the law should comply with a U.S. Supreme Court case that allows states to ban cross burning if it is carried out with an intent to intimidate.


There was no opposition to the measure.


"We have no comment on the bill," said Adam Schwartz, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.


A first offense would be a Class 3 felony, while subsequent offenses would be a Class 2 felony. Both could draw serious prison time and fines. But those penalties could be reduced to misdemeanors if legislative opposition pops up.


"We feel it's important for the state," Lackland said. "It's a protective measure, and no one especially in the work place should have to deal with this."


Matt Hopf can be reached at 217-782-3095 or Matt.hopf@sj-r.com.