Representatives from the County police, FBI, U.S. Department of Justice and the Anti-Defamation League urged everyone who attended a Hate Crime Prevention Forum on Monday to take pictures and call police every time they see any incidents of hate, no matter how minor the incident.
“Everyone’s got a phone. Record it,” urged County Police Chief Tom Manger. Send a message that hate is not welcome here, he said.
“We need help from citizens so we can get in front of it before it becomes a crime,” added Gordon Johnson, special agent from the Baltimore office of the FBI.
During the two-hour forum at the Bender Jewish Community Center in Rockville, officials involved in fighting hate crimes strove to reassure the two dozen audience members that hate is not new, and it can be stopped, if they report the minor incidents.
If people who express their hate on social media or on the streets believe they are frightening people, chances are they will do it again, and probably recruit people to join them, said Ben Lieu, director of the MidAtlantic region of the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service.
But if witnesses take photos to document the hate and call Facebook and Twitter whenever they see hateful messages, the perpetrators probably will be intimidated and not return, Manger said.
While just saying hateful words without threatening anyone is not a crime, people need to report it before the perpetrators become more brazen, Manger said.
The speakers asked audience members to report possible hate crime and to let law enforcement officers decide whether the incidents they witnessed were hate speech, a hate crime or domestic terrorism.
“Don’t be ashamed. You are not the first one to report” about harassment, Lieu said.
Doron Ezickson, ADL regional director, likened the occasional slur to lava building inside a volcano. The actual crime is the hot lava spewing out, and but what’s inside and beneath the mountain are all the minor incidents, heating up and preparing the volcano to erupt, Ezickson said.
During 2016, there were 87 hate crimes reported in the County, a 32 percent increase from 2015, said Manger.
“I will tell you that more occurred in November and December of last year,” said Manger, who attributed the end-of-the-year rise to the diatribe from the presidential election.
“Both sides are guilty,” Manger said. “It was a very volatile period.”
Last year, 41 percent of the hate crimes here were religious in nature, with the majority of those leveled against the Jewish community, Manger said. Bethesda had the most hate crimes while Gaithersburg had the fewest, he said.
Another 37 percent were racial attacks, and the remaining crime targeted transgendered people.
Forty percent of these hate crimes involved vandalism and graffiti with another 20 percent involving physical attacks, Manger said.
Manger said the County arrested someone in 30 percent of these cases, which he said was average. Of those arrested, most were between 16 and 37 years old; nine were under 18.
“It really runs the gamut,” he said.
The speakers urged everyone to learn about people from different religions and ethnicity. Attend and sponsor interfaith events, they suggested.
Michael Feinstein, president and CEO of the JCC, summed up the event by noting, “I think what we learned today, fighting hate, it takes a village.”