HARTFORD, CT – Surrounded by advocates of the Anti-Defamation League, NAACP and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, among others, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Monday he will introduce legislation to strengthen federal laws against hate crimes.
Blumenthal, at a press conference at the Legislative Office Building, said, called the surge in hate-based crimes both in Connecticut and nationally “a crisis.”
There has been an “avalanche of hate speech that has emerged’’ in the aftermath of the presidential election, and that Connecticut hasn’t been spared from the ugliness, Blumenthal said.
He was referring specifically to two recent incidents: one in East Windsor where one man at a weekend bonfire dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe; and one in Wilton where a group of students began chanting “built the wall’’ at a high school football game against Danbury, a school with a large Hispanic population.
Blumenthal said the legislation he plans to sponsor during the next session would, among other things: increase penalties for those convicted of hate crimes, provide incentives to law enforcement agencies for reporting of hate crime incidents, and, allow those who report hate crimes to remain anonymous.
Asked by reporters whether he thought President-elect Donald Trump would support toughening penalties against hate crimes, Blumenthal answered: “This gives our new president-elect the opportunity to be a leader instead of giving white supremacists the idea that they will have the White House’s ear.”
Blumenthal referred to an interview that Trump did on “60 Minutes’’ a few day after he was elected, when he said he was “saddened’’ to hear that some of his supporters were inciting violence. “If it helps, I will say this…Stop it,” Trump told “60 Minutes.”
Connecticut Republican Party Chairman JR Romano criticized Blumenthal for politicizing the hate crime issue.
“It’s selective outrage,” Romano said. “He and others who are blaming Trump for this should look themselves in the mirror.”
Romano pointed to an incident last week in Meriden where a man waving a Donald Trump sign and an American flag was punched and kicked by two men.
“Where was the outrage over that incident,’’ asked Romano. “Look all hate crimes, regardless of who does them, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Standing by Blumenthal’s side at the press conference were David Slossberg, chairman of Connecticut regional office of the Anti-Defamation League; Mongi Dhaouadi, executive director, Council on American-Islamic Relations; Imam Abul-Shahid Muhammad Ansari, Greater Hartford NAACP president, and Robin P. McHaelen, founder and executive director of True Colors, Inc., an LGBTQ advocacy group.
Blumenthal said Trump can also set a national example by doing a better job with his appointments to high level positions in his administration.
Blumenthal, and fellow Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy have been critical of Trump’s appointment of Stephen K. Bannon as Trump’s chief strategist.
The former chairman of the Breitbart web site, Bannon, according to Blumenthal, is “associated with a website that deals in anti-Semitic, racist, xenophobic, misogynic comments.”
On Monday, Blumenthl said toughening hate crime legislation ought to have bipartisan support.
“This is a real call to action. Hate crime needs not only to be condemned, but also punished,” Blumenthal said.
Even before the presidential ballots were cast though hate crimes were increasing.
There were 5,850 hate crimes reported in the country in 2015, which he said was a 7 percent increase over the year before, according to Slossberg.
Dhaouadi said it was significant that the ADL and Muslim community were united, behind Blumenthal’s initiative.
“We (Muslims) are under attack,” Dhaouadi said. “There has been a 67 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslims in 2015.”
Dhaouadi, Blumenthal and the other speakers said while the statistics point to a sharp increase in hate crime in the country, it doesn’t truly represent how bad the problem is.
“The reality is,” Dhaouadi said, “is there is much more hate crime out there. But it is under reported. People are afraid to report.
“People have been bullied and called names after the election,” continued Dhaouadi. “And often times those doing the bullying are throwing the name Trump around.
“We are bearing the brunt of this act; facing this wave of hate,” Dhaouadi said.
Dhaouadi, like Blumenthal, said Trump is sending a “bad message” with his early administration picks, as selecting Michael Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, to be his national security advisor.
Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, has expressed has likened Islam to a “cancer” that has infected 1.6 billion people and is growing, and has echoed far-right, anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.
While much of the news coverage during Trump’s campaign, and since his election, has been focused on his positions concerning immigration, building walls on the Mexican border, and the like, the impact has been much more widespread, said McHaelen.
“Since the election young transgender people are terrified about their future,” McHaelen said. “They are worried about what new laws might be passed.
“Name calling is going to escalate to violence,’’ McHaelen continued. “This is a crisis.”
She added: “More than 225 transgender people have been murdered in the past year – the majority being transgender woman of color.’’
All those at the press conference vowed to fight the hate together.
Muhammad Ansari said hatred “is not a new thing for the NAACP. It has been going in the African community for over 100 years.
“We will rally our members together to fight the hate,” he said. “We will do whatever we can.”