In re B.C. et al., Minors

(The People of the State of Illinois, Appellant, v.
B.C., et al., Appellees)
Supreme Court of Illinois
176 Ill. 2d 536 (1997)

 [p. 538] Chief Justice FREEMAN, delivered the opinion of the court.

 The question presented by this appeal is whether section 12-7.1(a) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (the hate crime statute) (720 ILCS 5/12-7.1(a) (West 1994)) requires that the victim of the offense be the individual, or of the group of individuals, whose actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or national origin provided reason for the offense.  We hold that section 12-7.1(a) does not impose such a requirement.


 On January 8, 1995, the State filed petitions in the circuit court of Madison County charging respondents, B.C. and T.C., as delinquent minors (see 705 ILCS 405/1-1 et seq. (West 1994)) for committing the offense of disorderly conduct (see 720 ILCS 5/26-1 (West 1994)).  On March 17, 1995, the State amended the petitions to charge respondents with delinquency for committing a hate crime under section 12-7.1(a) of the Criminal Code. The petitions essentially alleged that, on October 14, 1994, in Madison County, respondents knowingly committed disorderly conduct (720 ILCS 5/26-1 (West 1994)) by displaying "patently offensive depictions of violence toward African Americans in such an unreasonable manner as to alarm and disturb James Jeffries and provoke a breach of the peace in violation of 720 ILCS 5/12-7.1 * * * and against the dignity of the People of the State of Illinois * * *."

 [p. 539] At the adjudication hearing, the parties stipulated that Jeffries was not an African-American, nor did the defendants perceive him to be, but that other unnamed individuals who were African-Americans were present at the time the offense was allegedly committed.  Also, such unnamed individuals were not identified in the petitions as victims.  It was also stipulated that the allegedly patently offensive depictions of violence toward African-Americans were confiscated from the respondents.  The depictions were subsequently admitted without objection.

 In response to respondents' motion to dismiss the charges (725 ILCS 5/114-1(a)(8) (West 1994)), and based on the factual stipulations, the circuit court dismissed the petitions for failure to state an offense.  The court found that the charges could not be sustained because Jeffries was not actually and was not perceived to be, by defendants, a member of "the protected classifications" and that such was a necessary element of the offense of hate crime.  The State appealed the dismissals.  134 Ill.2d R. 604(a)(1).

 On review, the appellate court reasoned that if the victim of a hate crime was not, or at least thought to be, a member of "the targeted group," under the statute, the word "perceived" within the provision would be superfluous. Finding also the statute to be ambiguous, the appellate court interpreted legislative debate to indicate an intent that the word "perceived" encompass situations where a victim is considered of a particular race by an accused, but is actually not.  The appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the petitions because Jeffries was not, and was not perceived to be, African-American. 277 Ill.App.3d 1085, 214 Ill.Dec. 703, 661 N.E.2d 1148.  The appellate court, in effect, held that under the Act, the alleged victim must be or be perceived, by an accused, a member of one of the classes named in the statute.

 [p. 540] We subsequently granted the State's petition for leave to appeal (155 Ill.2d R. 315(b)) and now reverse and remand to the circuit court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

SECTION 12-7.1

 In 1983, section 12-7.1 was added to the Criminal Code of 1961 (Pub. Act 82-995, § 1, eff. January 1, 1983) and provided in pertinent part:

"Ethnic intimidation. (a) A person commits ethnic intimidation when, by reason of the race, color, creed, religion or national origin of another individual or group of individuals, he commits assault, criminal trespass to residence, criminal trespass to real property or mob action as these crimes are defined in * * * this Code, respectively.
(b) Ethnic intimidation is a Class A misdemeanor;  provided, however, that any person who commits ethnic intimidation as a participant in a mob action, as defined in Section 25-1 of this Code, which results in the violent infliction of injury to the person or property of another shall be guilty of a Class 3 felony."  Ill.Rev.Stat.1989, ch. 38, pars. 12-7.1(a), (b).

 Section 12-7.1 was based on model hate crime legislation proposed to the states by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.  See C. Gaumer, Punishment For Prejudice:  A Commentary on the Constitutionality and Utility of State Statutory Responses to the Problem of Hate Crimes, 39 S.D.L.Rev. 1, 9 (1994).

 In 1991 and 1992, the legislature amended section 12-7.1 by changing the name of the offense from "Ethnic intimidation" to "Hate crime" and by increasing the number of classes, by reason of which the hate crime occurred, and the number of predicate criminal offenses which might constitute a hate crime.  Pub. Act 86-1418, eff. January 1, 1991 (amending Ill.Rev.Stat.1989, ch. 38, par. 12-7.1);  Pub. Act 87-440, eff. January 1, 1992 (amending Ill.Rev.Stat.1991, ch. 38, par. [p. 541] 12-7.1).  Thus, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, and physical and mental disability were added to the statute as bases;  and battery, aggravated assault, misdemeanor theft, misdemeanor damage to property, and criminal trespass to vehicle were also added.  The increased penalty language of subparagraph (b) pertaining to commission of the offense as a participant in a mob action was also eliminated.  Pub. Act 86-1418, eff. January 1, 1991 (amending Ill.Rev.Stat.1989, ch. 38, par. 12-7.1).

 In 1993, disorderly conduct and telephone harassment were added as predicate offenses. Pub. Act 87-1048, eff. January 1, 1993 (amending 720 ILCS 5/12-7.1(a) (West 1992)).  In 1994, the words "actual or perceived" were also inserted immediately before the group of classes by reason of which the hate crime occurred. Pub. Act 88-659, § 3, eff. September 16, 1994 (amending 720 ILCS 5/12-7.1(a) (West 1992)).  Thus, at the time of the instant offense, in October 1994, sections 12-7.1(a) and (b) provided:

"Hate crime.
(a) A person commits hate crime when, by reason of the actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or national origin of another individual or group of individuals, he commits assault, battery, aggravated assault, misdemeanor or theft, criminal trespass to residence, misdemeanor criminal damage to property, criminal trespass to vehicle, criminal trespass to real property, mob action or disorderly conduct as these crimes are defined in Sections 12-1, 12-2, 12-3, 16-1, 19-4, 21-1, 21-2, 21-3, 25-1, and 26-1 of this Code, respectively or harassment by telephone as defined in Section 1-1 of the Obscene Phone Call Act.
(b) Hate crime is a Class 4 felony for a first offense and a Class 2 felony for a second or subsequent offense."  (Emphasis added.)  720 ILCS 5/12-7.1(a), (b) (West 1994).


 The State claims that the courts below erred by [p. 542] incorrectly interpreting section 12-7.1(a) to require that the victim or complainant be or be perceived to be of one of the classes enumerated in the statute.

 The State first argues that the plain language of the hate crime statute indicates a legislative intent that the focus of the provision be upon the accused's motive and conduct, and not upon the status or the perceived status of any victim or victims.  Further, according to the State, the provision includes no language which directs or suggests that an accused's bias-motivated actions must be directed against even a particular victim in order for a hate crime to occur.  The State claims that by inclusion of the phrase "actual or perceived," the legislature intended that a trier of fact focus not on the victim's status, but rather on the defendant's motivation which caused him to commit one of the predicate offenses listed by the statute.

 Respondents maintain that a person cannot be a "victim" of a hate crime when the offender's improper bias in committing the underlying crime is not directed against that individual or the class to which he belongs. Thus, as applied to this case, James Jeffries cannot be the victim of a hate crime because the racially offensive materials were not directed against either him or his race.

 The primary rule of statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the legislature, and that inquiry appropriately begins with the language of the statute.  People v. Hare, 119 Ill.2d 441, 447, 116 Ill.Dec. 664, 519 N.E.2d 879 (1988).  Where the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, it will be given effect without resort to other aids for construction.  Eagan v. Chicago Transit Authority, 158 Ill.2d 527, 199 Ill.Dec. 739, 634 N.E.2d 1093 (1994).  However, where the meaning of a statute is unclear from the statutory language itself, a court may look beyond the language employed and consider the purpose of the law, the evils [p. 543] that law was designed to remedy (see In re Application for Judgment & Sale of Delinquent Properties for the Tax Year 1989, 167 Ill.2d 161, 212 Ill.Dec. 215, 656 N.E.2d 1049 (1995)), as well as legislative history to discern legislative intent (see People v. Jameson, 162 Ill.2d 282, 205 Ill.Dec. 90, 642 N.E.2d 1207 (1994)).  In doing so, a court should presume that the legislature did not intend an absurdity, inconvenience or injustice.  See Illinois Crime Investigating Comm'n v. Buccieri, 36 Ill.2d 556, 224 N.E.2d 236 (1967).

 It is accepted that a statute is ambiguous, warranting consideration of other sources, when it is capable of being understood by reasonably well-informed persons in two or more different senses.  Jameson, 162 Ill.2d at 288, 205 Ill.Dec. 90, 642 N.E.2d 1207.

 The plain language of the hate crime statute states that the offense is committed when a person commits one of the underlying predicate offenses "by reason of the actual or perceived race * * * of another individual or group of individuals."  720 ILSC 5/12-7.1(a) (West 1994).  The statute includes no expression that the victim or complainant of the underlying offense must be that individual or of that group of individuals.  Inclusion of the phrase "actual or perceived" as a modifier of race and of the other enumerated classes indicates, however, that the race, color, religion, etc., of the individual or group that provides reason for the offense is capable of being perceived by an accused.  This suggests that such individual has actual contact, or has had actual contact, at the least, with the accused so that his or her race, religion, etc., is perceivable.  Nonetheless, it remains unclear from the statute's language whether such individual or individuals must necessarily be the victim or complainant of the underlying offense as opposed to being a person associating with the victim, a bystander, or a physically nearby, but more remote, individual.  But see In re Vladimir P., 283 Ill.App.3d 1068, 219 Ill.Dec. 161, 670 N.E.2d 839 (1996).  Considering the lack of clarity in this regard, we find the statute to be ambiguous.  See Jameson, 162 Ill.2d at 288, 205 Ill.Dec. 90, 642 N.E.2d 1207.  Accordingly, we must resort to other construction aids.

 [p. 544] Respondents contend that the legislative history supports their position that the victim must belong to or be perceived to belong to the group against which the accused is biased.  Respondents claim it is noteworthy that the hate crime statute was formerly entitled "Ethnic intimidation" (Ill.Rev.Stat.1989, ch. 38, par. 12-7.1), and further claim that the basic elements of the offense have not subsequently changed, other than that the enumerated classes (and predicate offenses) have been expanded beyond ethnicity.  Citing to the legislative debates, respondents also claim that the legislature chose to enhance the punishment for the predicate offenses underlying hate crimes because of the fact that defendants might choose their victims for "abhorrent" reasons.  Cf. 82d I11. Gen. Assem., Senate Proceedings, June 24, 1982, at 93;  82d Ill. Gen. Assem., House Proceedings, June 25, 1982, at 32.

 We have reviewed the debates cited by respondents and do not find that the legislature contemplated penalty enhancement of the underlying offenses because of any improper motive in selecting victims.  Neither are we persuaded by respondents' argument that the former "Ethnic intimidation" statute required that the victim necessarily be an individual from one of the enumerated classes, and, assuming that to be the case, that the basic statutory elements have remained the same with the expansion of classes and predicate offenses as well as the change of name.

 In our view, the legislative history supports, instead, a generally more expansive meaning of the statute.  During legislative debates surrounding passage of the hate crime statute, Representative Farley, the sponsor of the legislation, stated:

"This [b]ill is based on a premise that bias crimes have a more profound potential impact on our community than other crimes.  It seems to me that there should be a loud and clear message out there in regard to hate crimes. [p. 545] These types of crimes can and would destroy the very fabric of our society." 87th Ill. Gen. Assem., House Proceedings, May 22, 1992, at 173-74.

 The debates elsewhere reveal that the phrase "actual or perceived" was intended to foreclose the possibility that a hate crime perpetrator who had committed an underlying predicate offense against a person because of his or her religion, race, etc., might avoid conviction on the basis that the victim was not actually of the particular religion or race. 88th Ill. Gen. Assem., House Proceedings, April 20, 1993, at 168-71.  These debates do not reveal, however, whether it is the victim's status, whether actual or perceived, that is determinative as a rule of a hate crime.  Notably, the commentary also indicates, in general terms, that the primary focus of the statute was intended to be directed towards the biased motivation of the perpetrator, rather than towards the status of the victim.  See 88th Ill. Gen. Assem., House Proceedings, April 20, 1993, at 171.  In our view, it does not appear that the facts in the present case fall beyond the generally intended area of application for section 12-7.1(a).

 The State asserts that section 5-5-3.2(a)(10) of the Unified Code of Corrections, a statutory aggravation factor available for criminal sentencing, presents an example of how the legislature might have included language intended to focus on a victim's status.  730 ILCS 5/5-5-3.2 (West 1994) ("defendant committed the offense against a person or a person's property by reason of the person's actual or perceived race, color" (emphasis added)).  By contrast, the less restrictive language of the hate crime statute indicates that its focus is on whether the offender's bias towards certain stated groups motivated the alleged criminal conduct,.regardless of whether the complainant was, or was perceived to be, a member, himself, of the particular group.  In the State's view, where the legislature intends that the offender's bias be directed [p. 546] against a particular victim, it utilizes language to that effect as is shown by section 5-5-3.2. Because section 12-7.1(a) does not include such language, the legislature could not have intended such a requirement.

 Respondents assert that the State's reliance on section 5-5-3.2 constitutes a distinction without a difference.  That the sentencing factor provision refers to "person" and the hate crime statute refers to "individual" is not an indication that the hate crime statute does not require that a particular victim be the recipient of the offender's bias.  Neither does this difference make the hate crime statute's language less restrictive.

 Respondents' argument misses the point.  Section 5-5-3.2(a)(10) does not simply utilize a different, but similar, term than the hate crime statute.  The provision utilizes the same term, "person," in referring to both the victim and the one whose status provides reason for the offense.  Moreover, the syntax within the sentencing factor provision makes clear that the two "persons" are one and the same.  The existence of the sentencing factor's language makes clear that where the legislature intends that the bias-motivated conduct be directed against a particular victim, it is capable of doing so.

 In addition, it is significant that the legislature enacted the "Institutional vandalism" statute (Ill.Rev.Stat.1983, ch. 38, par. 21-1.2) along with the hate crime statute.  Like the hate crime statute, the institutional vandalism statute was also part of model legislation proposed to the states by the Anti-Defamation League that was intended to combat a rising tide of bias-motivated crimes against persons, institutions and property.  The institutional vandalism statute provides in relevant part:

"A person commits institutional vandalism when, by reason of the actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion * * * of another individual or group of individuals, he * * * inflicts damage to any of the following properties:

 *   *   *   *   *   *
[p. 547] (3) A school, educational facility or community center;
(4) The grounds adjacent to, and owned or rented by, any institution, facility, building, structure * * * described [above];  or
(5) Any personal property contained in any institution, facility, building, structure * * * described [above]."  (Emphasis added.)  720 ILCS 5/21-1.2(a)(3), (a)(4), (a)(5) (West 1994).

 The institutional vandalism statute was amended in 1994 as part of the same act that amended the hate crime statute to include the phrase "actual or perceived."  See Pub. Act 88-659, § 3, eff. September 16, 1994 (amending 720 ILCS 5/12-7.1(a) (West 1992)).

 Consideration of this provision also makes clear that the victim of a hate crime need not be a member of one of the statute's enumerated classes providing reason for the offense.  The hate crime statute and the vandalism provision both require the same motivational or intent element, and neither provision expresses that that motive necessarily be directed against the victim of the underlying offense.  In the case of the institutional vandalism statute, however, there can be little doubt that a victim, for example, the owner of a vandalized school or the owner of personal property within such building, need not be the individual or a member of the group whose race, religion, etc., motivated the criminal act.  To require such not only would constitute an overly restrictive interpretation of the statute, but would be absurd as well.

 We find additional support for a less restrictive construction of the hate crime statute after considering the statutory elements of disorderly conduct (720 ILCS 5/26-1 (West 1994)) and mob action (720 ILCS 5/25-1 (West 1994)), two of the predicate offenses underlying the statute.  The State argues that proof of disorderly conduct, the underlying offense with which respondents were charged, does not require proof that the offensive conduct be directed against a specific individual, i.e., a [p. 548] "victim" of the offense.  See 720 ILCS 5/26-1(a)(1) (West 1994) (knowingly "[d]oes any act in such an unreasonable manner as to alarm or disturb another and to provoke a breach of the peace").  Respondents claim, however, that the word "another" within the disorderly conduct statute indicates that someone must be alarmed or disturbed by the accused's conduct.  Consequently, the offense cannot be considered a victimless crime.

 Though the phrase "as to alarm or disturb another" is included within the definition of disorderly conduct, the nature of the conduct is at issue in the case of this offense, rather than the extent to which the conduct is directed at any one particular individual.  People v. Raby, 40 Ill.2d 392, 397, 240 N.E.2d 595 (1968), noted that the gist of disorderly conduct is " 'not so much that a certain overt type of behavior was accomplished, as * * * that the offender knowingly engaged in some activity in an unreasonable manner which he knew or should have known would tend to disturb, alarm or provoke others.  The emphasis is on the unreasonableness of the conduct and its tendency to disturb.' "  Quoting Ill.Ann.Stat., ch. 38, par. 26-1, Committee Comments-1961 (Smith-Hurd).

 In Raby, the court affirmed the disorderly conduct conviction of Al Raby, a civil rights activist, based on charges that he and others sat, during the 5 p.m. rush hour, in the intersection of LaSalle and Randolph Streets in Chicago and refused to leave despite several requests by police.  Similarly, in People v. Stiso, 93 Ill.App.3d 101, 48 Ill.Dec. 687, 416 N.E.2d 1209 (1981), the court upheld a disorderly conduct conviction based on charges that the defendant barred patients' access to an abortion surgery room and refused to leave when requested.  Neither of these cases represented instances where a particular individual was aggrieved or offended by the defendant's conduct, but concerned disturbance to the general public or persons present in the general sense.

 [p. 549] Furthermore, when analyzing claims of insufficiency of evidence to support disorderly conduct, reviewing courts often focus their analysis on the unreasonableness of the conduct and treat the person offended by the conduct as a "complainant" rather than a "victim."  See People v. Albert, 243 Ill.App.3d 23, 27, 183 Ill.Dec. 304, 611 N.E.2d 567 (1993) (defendant knew or should have known noise would disturb people such as "complainant");  People v. Duncan, 259 Ill.App.3d 308, 197 Ill.Dec. 581, 631 N.E.2d 803 (1994) (public urination sufficient to sustain conviction for disorderly conduct where conduct was done in such an unreasonable manner as to alarm and disturb another); People v. Bergeson, 255 Ill.App.3d 601, 604-05, 194 Ill.Dec. 292, 627 N.E.2d 408 (1994).  Clearly, while a complainant provides evidence that a defendant's conduct is unreasonable to "another," the complainant need not be someone against whom the defendant has directed his conduct.

 Similarly, the mob action statute is defined as "[t]he use of force or violence [which] disturb[s] the public peace by 2 or more persons acting together and without authority of law."  720 ILCS 5/25-1(a) (West 1994).  To sustain a conviction for mob action it must be shown that a defendant was part of a group engaged in physical aggression reasonably capable of inspiring fear of injury or harm.  People v. Simpkins, 48 Ill.2d 106, 109, 268 N.E.2d 386 (1971).  In Simpkins, mob action convictions were upheld based on charges that the defendants were among a group of teenagers, one of whom possessed a recently discharged revolver, shortly after police heard several shots and saw two groups of teenagers running in opposite directions.

 Thus, in some instances, where disorderly conduct or mob action constitutes the predicate offense for a hate crime, there might not exist a particular aggrieved or offended person because these offenses may be committed by unreasonably affronting the public at large.  This fact provides additional support for the interpretation of the hate crime statute urged by the State.

 [p. 550] Moreover, we agree with the State that when a disorderly conduct charge is heightened to the offense of a hate crime by virtue of a biased motivation for the conduct, the State's burden of proof should not increase to require proof of the existence of a particular individual against whom the alleged conduct is directed.  By dismissing the charges on the basis that the named complainant, James Jeffries, was not an African-American, the type of person against whom respondents' racial bias was directed, the trial court, in effect, held that the State was required to prove that the offensive conduct was directed against a specific person.  As shown, proof of such element is not necessary for proof of disorderly conduct.

 Finally, section 12-7.1(a) must be interpreted in a manner that avoids absurd, unjust, unreasonable or inconvenient results which could not have been intended by the legislature.  See People v. Stanciel, 153 Ill.2d 218, 233-34, 180 Ill.Dec. 124, 606 N.E.2d 1201 (1992).  Accepting the respondents' interpretation results, for example, in the inability of a Caucasian person who is not perceived as, but associates or socializes with, African-Americans to maintain a charge against a defendant who admittedly burns a cross on that person's property because of racial animosity directed against the person's associates.  Similarly, a defendant professing hatred against homosexuals might bomb a "gay" bar which causes injury, by happenstance, to only heterosexual patrons of the bar as well as the bar's heterosexual owner, and avoid prosecution under the hate crime statute.  Likewise, a defendant professing hatred against Jewish persons might physically assault a person who, though not Jewish or perceived to be Jewish by the defendant, is engaged in demonstrating against the desecration of synagogues.  This defendant, also, would avoid prosecution under respondents' interpretation of the hate crime statute.

 [p. 551] In each of these instances, individual persons, but more importantly our entire community, are harmed by a defendant's bias-motivated criminal conduct.  We conclude that the legislature, aware of this fact, intended that improper bias which motivates certain criminal acts be the component which elevates the conduct to the level of hate crime, rather than merely the status of a particular victim.  There is no indication that the legislature intended only to redress the narrower wrong caused by biased selection of victims.  Cf. Wang Lu-in, Hate Crimes Law § 10.04(3) (1996) (categorizing the Illinois hate crime statute as among statutes capable of broader construction).

 Although ambiguous penal statutes should be construed to afford lenity to the accused (see People v. Foster, 99 Ill.2d 48, 55, 75 Ill.Dec. 411, 457 N.E.2d 405 (1983)), such rule does not justify the failure to apply a criminal statute where the legislature clearly intended its application (People v. Hicks, 164 Ill.2d 218, 222, 207 Ill.Dec. 295, 647 N.E.2d 257 (1995)).  In the case of section 12-7.1(a), we find the legislature intended that it be applicable to the facts presented by the instant charge.  Accordingly, we hold that section 12-7.1(a) does not require as an element that the victim be an individual or of the group of individuals whose class provides reason for the underlying criminal offense.

 Respondents yet maintain that regardless of how the hate crime statute is interpreted, dismissal of the petitions may be sustained on the basis that the petitions and stipulation were insufficient to state disorderly conduct. According to respondents, the petitions and stipulations showed that, at most, they "peacefully expressed unpopular views."

 A charge of disorderly conduct requires a showing that the accused knowingly acted in such an unreasonable manner as to alarm or disturb another and to provoke a breach of the peace.  720 ILCS 5/26-1 (West [p. 552] 1994). The offense embraces a wide variety of conduct serving to destroy or menace the public order and tranquility.  The offense may include not only violent acts, but acts and words likely to produce violence in others.  City of Chicago v. Wender, 46 Ill.2d 20, 262 N.E.2d 470 (1970).  The "type of conduct alone is not determinative, but rather culpability is equally dependent upon the surrounding circumstances."  720 ILCS 5/26-1, Committee Comments--1961, at 337 (Smith-Hurd 1993).

 In the present case, the amended petitions alleged in relevant part that respondents "knowingly committed the offense of disorderly conduct in that respondents displayed patently offensive depictions of violence toward African-Americans in such an unreasonable manner as to alarm and disturb James Jeffries and provoke a breach of the peace" in violation of the hate crime statute.  These depictions were confiscated from respondents and subsequently admitted during hearing on the motion to dismiss.

 The alleged depictions consisted of a hand drawing of an eerily smiling, hooded Ku Klux Klansman who held an axe-like object from which drops of blood apparently fell.  At the Klansman's feet lay the prone body of a dark complexioned person, whose groin was disfigured and darkened.  Beneath the person's body and head were two connected, dark, oblong shapes that apparently represented pools of blood.  Five swastikas appeared beneath the scene.  The Klansman's robe bore the statement, "White power Hitler rules."  The following riddle was written alongside the Klansman figure.  "[H]ey you take a niger [sic] and chomp off his d--k & his fingers and stike [sic] it up his a--and then stike [sic] it throgh [sic] is [sic] head.  And [w]hat do [you] get.  One [d]ead niger [sic] and a lot of blood."  Several other hooded Ku Klux Klansmen were also depicted, one of whom was armed with a knife and apparently displaying [p. 553] his extended middle finger.  Apparent gang symbols stated "Supreme White Power," and one hooded Klansman appeared before the statement, "The original Boyz in the Hood." The petitions alleged that several African-Americans were present when these depictions were displayed by respondents to Jeffries.

 We find that the petitions and stipulations sufficiently set forth charges of disorderly conduct against respondents by alleging that they displayed certain patently offensive depictions of violence toward African-Americans that disturbed an individual and provoked a breach of the peace.  See 725 ILCS 5/111-3(a) (West 1994).  Respondents were sufficiently apprised thereby of the charges against them.  By our holding, we do not preclude respondents from asserting any defenses or constitutional challenges that may arise from the application of the hate crime statute to the particular circumstances of the case.  At this early procedural stage, we have insufficient information upon which to determine whether first amendment concerns may be implicated by a criminal prosecution based entirely upon the display of a written and drawn depiction.  Accordingly, we simply uphold the sufficiency of the charging instruments to state an offense of hate crime based on disorderly conduct.


 Accordingly, we reverse the judgments of the appellate and circuit courts and remand this cause to the circuit court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

 Judgments reversed;  cause remanded.

 Justice BILANDIC, dissenting:


 Justice HEIPLE, also dissenting:


 Justice NICKELS, also dissenting: