Newtown Allies And Justice Department Unite Against Hate
Newtown Allies for Change joined forces with the US Department of Justice on Wednesday, October 25, at Newtown Community Center to present “United Against Hate,” an informative expert panel focused on the prevention, identification, and proper reporting of hate crimes.
The forum featured a panel of experts, including Assistant US Attorneys Anastasia King, Shan Patel, and William Brown; Assistant State’s Attorney Kristin Chiriatti; Assistant Special Agent in Charge Anish Shukla of the FBI; Sergeant Luke LaRue of the Connecticut State Police Hate Crimes Unit; Connecticut State Trooper Clifford Magiore; and Newtown Police Department’s Chief David Kullgren and Sergeant William Chapman.
The event was well attended, and the audience included members of the public as well as multiple police force members from both the town and state levels. Newtown PD Deputy Chief Bryan Bishop was among those in the audience.
Citing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, Patel stated to the audience that hate crimes can be defined as “willfully causing injury based on race, color, national origin, religion as well as sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.”
King then emphasized this definition, explaining that the idea of causality is the critical factor in determining whether an offense is considered a hate crime.
“The crime would not have occurred but for the fact that the victim was a member of a protected class,” she explained.
The expert panel delineated three basic categories of bias action: hate crimes, hate incidents, and discrimination.
While hate crimes have strict legal definitions with clearly delineated consequences, classifying a given incidence of hate is not always so simple. Discrimination refers to differential treatment based on membership in a group, while hate incidents are acts of discrimination perpetuated against specific individuals.
“Regardless of whether something violates statutes at the state or the federal level,” Patel commented, “That’s for us to figure out. We want you to report it.”
LaRue also stressed the importance of reporting all hate incidents, even those not rising to the level of hate crimes, in order to assist in the future identification of hate as a potential motive.
“Often the motive for someone’s actions is not established unless we have that information,” he explained to an audience member, “You could take a situation that might look like a simple assault, and when you have those reports it can become an assault with all these aggravating factors added to it.”
Audience engagement was robust, with some expressing skepticism towards the authorities and pointing out that reports they had made in the past were not taken as seriously as they would have expected.
“I know that practically it is impossible for you to investigate every case,” said one member of the public, “But I wonder if perhaps you should.”
“How do we know that all these reports aren’t just going to the waste-paper basket?” asked another.
Responding to these apprehensions, King highlighted the necessity of reporting, stating that “none of us can investigate what we don’t know about. If it’s not reported, we don’t know about it, and we can’t even begin to look into it.”
Echoing this sentiment, Kullgren urged the community to report any suspicions of hateful motives, assuring cooperation from law enforcement.
“We cannot work with our partners on this board here if we don’t know about it,” he said. “So we want you guys to come to us. Whatever you think it is, just come to us. We’re going to help you figure that out.”
Finally, the event clarified the proper reporting procedures for hate crimes or hate incidents.
In emergencies, the public should always call 911, but for non-emergency situations Newtown Police Department can be reached at 203-426-5841. All hate-related reports made to the local police department are automatically forwarded to Sergeant LaRue’s State Police Hate Crimes Unit.
For civil rights violations, the public can contact the US Attorney’s Office at 203-821-3700.
Additionally, the Connecticut FBI branch can be reached at 203-277-6311.
Reporter Owen Tanzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.