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Local Column

Olson: Hate-crime allegations hit close to home

DeKalb police investigate a stabbing Wednesday in Hopkins Park.
DeKalb police investigate a stabbing Wednesday in Hopkins Park.

It was an ugly story, but I didn’t realize the impact it truly had until I saw the letter my 5-year-old daughter brought home from her summer day camp program.

The folks running the camp wrote to let us, the parents, know that they were aware of the fight that occurred at Hopkins Park on Wednesday in which an 18-year-old Sycamore man was accused of cutting three boys.

They’d talked with authorities and wanted to ensure us that, although the children from the camp program regularly visit the Hopkins Pool, they’re there at times when it’s mostly other camp programs, younger children, and that the children are supervised and safe.

They’d determined it was still safe to bring my child and all her friends to the pool – and in fact, she was there on Friday, a beautiful day for acquatic recreation.

I was glad they reached that conclusion. My daughter loves the pool, I believe she is safe there, and I want her to be happy.

I’d read the coverage of the fight by reporter Kelsey Rettke and Managing Editor Kevin Solari. I’d also seen photographs of the injuries that two of the boys involved in the fight had suffered, deep slash wounds that we decided were too gruesome for publication.

Prosecutors say those wounds were inflicted at the hands of Jeremy C. Lloyd, who initially faced several assault charges, which were later dropped. DeKalb County prosecutors instead charged Lloyd with a hate crime because police and others say he has a penchant for using racial slurs, the kind of insult to a person’s dignity that has been known to cause fights.

So there it was, an alleged hate crime in Hopkins Park in broad daylight. A violent altercation that led to injuries that required surgery. Cops and police tape at DeKalb’s largest park at its busiest time of year.

We shouldn’t sleep on it – but I’ll admit, personally I was a little complacent.

I’ve written and edited countless stories about all kinds of crime, from the sensational to the routine, and this one kind of rolled off me at first. Chalk it up to kids behaving badly and learning lessons.

The letter snapped me out of it, made me remember that these incidents don’t occur in a vacuum. They’re happening here in our communities and have real effects on a range of people.

Hate crimes are repugnant. I didn’t witness this event and don’t pretend to know what happened, but I do know that even allegations of racially motivated crimes hurt people. So much of society today says, “we don’t talk this way, we don’t think these things,” – and every alleged hate crime is a reminder that, sadly, people still do.

The fact that this incident occurred in such a public place makes some ask the question – are my children safe?

I’m glad that the people running my daughter’s day camp considered the question, and I also believe the conclusion that yes, children are safe there is the right one.

I’ve visited them at the pool in the past – when bathing suits or other items were forgotten in the rush out the door – and I never felt any danger.

This seems like its an isolated incident. Park district and police officials should work to ensure that is the case.

• Eric Olson is general manager at the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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