Following reports of nooses being left as symbols of hate around the state and nation, Connecticut librarians were challenged to begin a dialogue about hate crimes.
Betty Anne Reiter, head of adult services for the Groton Public Library said a librarian from Wilton had done just that, launching “Operation Respect” after authorities discovered racist and homophobic slurs defacing lockers at the high school there several years ago.
“Libraries are open to everybody, and all kinds of people come here,” Reiter said, making them an ideal place to take on such a role.
Southeastern Connecticut is home to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, which dealt with its own incidents of nooses left in a cadet's personal belongings and in a staff member's office. New London and Tourtellotte high schools have also run into some racial tensions at sporting events.
Reiter has now brought several groups together to present “Hate crimes: What are they? What are you going to do about it?” on April 30 to take on such issues.
Kenneth B. Hunter, civil rights officer at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, who will moderate the discussion, said: “People have said enough is enough.”
Hunter hopes the forum will help push people to tell others who harbor negative stereotypes that, “this is wrong.”
Organizers also hope to address more subtle forms of exclusion.
Jerry Fischer, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut, said he understands that some Muslim African-Americans members have felt left out of Christian celebrations of Martin Luther King Jr.
Mongi Dhaouadi, who works with both the Islamic Center of New London and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he recently was the only Muslim to attend a Unitarian service for King.
“It's a responsibility shared by both communities to reach out to others,” he said. “The civil rights movement is for everyone. Imagine the Muslim community after 9/11 without civil rights.”
Dhaouadi said Muslims often don't know what rights they have, and how to deal with discrimination. They're often afraid to talk about it because they think others don't care, or hold the same stereotypes, he said.
Kenneth Carpenter, a retired minister from Union Baptist Church, said some people “learn how to appear more tolerant than they really are inside of themselves.”
He wants to challenge this type of thinking, which is difficult to confront in other formats.
The forum will be held at 7 p.m. at the Groton Senior Center on 102 Newtown Road. It will feature Sherry Heller, executive director of the Center for Justice Education, Azekah Jennings, of the U.S. Department of Justice, James Edward Jones, director of the Greenwood Institute of Masjid Al-Islam, Robert Trestan, of the Anti-Defamation League, and Ivy Williams, co-founder of Parents and Educators for Eliminating Racism in Schools and a retired Groton teacher. (MORE)