This Thanksgiving, particularly after our highly-contested presidential election, is a time to reflect on our country’s bedrock principles.
These values include our commitment to tolerance and cultural understanding, our celebration of diversity and our respect for our fellow citizens, no matter their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or political viewpoint. Over the last year and particularly the last few weeks in Connecticut and throughout the country, we have seen these values increasingly give way to hatred, intolerance and bigotry.
Recently, such incidents have escalated. In New Haven, swastikas were painted on walls and doors of Wilbur Cross High School. In Danbury, swastikas were painted on a home and a car. In Ridgefield, a synagogue received mail with swastikas and pictures of Nazis. In East Windsor, a video surfaced of an individual dressed in Ku Klux Klan garb riding a motorcycle around a bonfire. In Windsor Locks, a Jewish man was verbally harassed because of his faith. In Meriden, two men attacked a man who held a sign supporting the President-elect. There are reports of Muslim children and children of immigrants being bullied in schools. And just over one year ago, a man fired four bullets from a high-powered rifle into the Baitul Aman Mosque in Meriden. He was subsequently convicted of a federal hate crime.
Last week, the FBI released its statistics on hate crimes committed in 2015. In Connecticut, 44 law enforcement agencies reported 93 hate-related incidents. Nationally, there were more than 7,000 victims of such crimes. These numbers are deeply sobering for all Americans. Equally disturbing, the FBI report showed a 67 percent increase in hate crimes committed against Muslim Americans as well as increases in these crimes against Jewish people, African Americans and LGBT individuals. Overall, reported hate crimes increased by six percent from the prior year – a number that does not account for those hate crimes that may go unreported out of the victims’ shame, fear or desire not to stand out further and bystanders’ belief that others will report the incident.
The Connecticut United States Attorney’s Office, together with local, state and federal law enforcement, is committed to enforcing the broad array of hate crimes laws that protect vulnerable minorities. Last month marked the seventh anniversary of one of those laws: The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This landmark statute was named for two men who were killed for the most un-American of reasons – because they were different from their attackers – Matthew Shepard in his sexual orientation and James Byrd Jr. in his race. This Act is just one of the tools available to law enforcement and prosecutors working to combat any discriminatory or violent acts that erode our diverse democracy.
But we cannot act on incidents that we do not know about, and we cannot understand the true scope of the problem without accurate reporting. My office is encouraging those local law enforcement agencies who do not participate in reporting hate-related incidents to the FBI to join the 95 agencies statewide that do. We are also training local law enforcement officers about hate crimes laws and cultural competency so that they are better equipped to assess situations they may encounter.
Above all, I ask each of you to take a stand against hate. Serve as an ally if you witness harassment or, worse, violence against your fellow citizens. Record video of incidents that can be used for investigations. And most importantly, report any incidents to your local police department or to the FBI. Your vigilance can help us ensure the freedom to which all Americans are entitled.
Deirdre M. Daly is the U.S. Attorney for the state of Connecticut.
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