Hate crimes do not just affect victims. They are message crimes, designed to intimidate a community of people.
That is evidenced by the rate of hospitalization, said Robert Trestan, which is four times greater in a hate crime compared to other crimes.
Trestan, Eastern States Civil Rights counsel with the Anti-Defamation League, came to the Groton Senior Center Wednesday as part of a panel aiming to address issues surrounding hate crimes and gender, racial and religious biases.
One problem is that communities try to downplay the incidents, said Azekah Jennings, who works in the U.S. Department of Justice's Community Relations Service.
No community “wants to be known as a hateful community,” Jennings said.“(Communities say) it's an isolated incident, it's not really a hate crime. The victims feel helpless.”
Jennings' job, along with other federal mediators, is to settle community conflicts and violence related to race, color or national origin.
So what is a hate crime? Jennings said, first and foremost, it must be a crime motivated by bias. It's different from other crimes because not only must police prove the crime, they must also prove why it was committed.
”You gotta get into a perpetrator's mind,” Trestan said.
James Edward Jones, director of the Greenwood Institute of Masjid Al-Islam in New Haven, pointed out that the courts are “the least effective way to deal with bias and prejudice.”
What communities must work on is “how we live and relate to one another,” he said.
Jones said that while almost every group has another group they talk about negatively, whether it's black or white, Muslim or Jew, people should be more vigilant about what they say and defend others from such talk.
Jones' son, 21, was shot and killed 11 years ago by an East Haven police officer at a traffic stop, an event that spurred Jones' involvement in racial profiling issues. He also works to combat what has been coined “Islamaphobia.”. . .
The event was sponsored by the Groton Public Library and various groups including the local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut.
A follow-up meeting will be held May 7 at 7 p.m. at the library at 52 Newtown Road, during which participants can come up with programs, legislation, and other concrete solutions to address racial and ethnic divides.