New group forms to stop hate before it starts
By Terry Oparka
Posted September 24, 2014
Hate crimes are not a problem in the Troy community, and a newly formed group aims to keep it that way.
Somewhat modeled after the Michigan Alliance Against Hate Crimes, the Troy Alliance Against Hate Crimes kicked off its first meeting with a presentation by the Troy Police Department at the Police and Fire Training Station Sept. 11. A dozen people attended, including members of the Troy-area Interfaith Group, which, according to their website, “exists to invite all faith communities to gather, grow and give for the sake of promoting the common values of love, peace and justice among all religions locally and globally. We believe that peace among peoples and nations requires peace among the religions.”
Jen Hilzinger, co-chair of the Troy School District Diversity and Inclusion Council, and members of other ethnic and faith-based groups also attended the first meeting of the alliance.
“The Troy School District is an incredibly diverse district,” Hilzinger said. “Some schools have 40-50 percent ... non-white students. I’m so thrilled my community cares to think ahead and plan this. It’s ground-breaking.”
Troy Police Sgt. Andy Breidenich and police service aide Shawn Flint told the attendees that the police will serve as advisors to the group and said the Police Department’s vision of the group was that it would bring together community groups, faith-based organizations, schools and the community to work together to educate and respond to hate-related problems that may occur within the city.
“The Troy Police Department will be an integral part of the effort, but we have to enforce the laws and can’t be at the forefront of the leadership of the group,” Breidenich explained. “I believe we are the first one in metro Detroit to start this. We’re doing this in advance of problems going on.”
The state of Michigan defines a hate crime as “a criminal act of intimidation, harassment, physical force or threat of physical force directed against a victim, their advocate or property, motivated in whole or in part by bias based on the following:
• Real or perceived race
• National origin
• Ethnic background
• Sexual orientation
• Gender identity
A bias crime is defined the same as a hate crime, with the difference being it is a noncriminal act.
Michigan’s hate crime law is the Ethnic Intimidation Act, which makes it a felony to harm or threaten to harm a person or the property of a person with the specific intent to intimidate or harass that person because of race, color, religion, gender or national origin. It carries a penalty up to two years and/or a $5,000 fine.
Flint explained that the Shepard Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act — which President Barack Obama signed into law in October 2009 after the murders of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. — increased penalties for violent hate crimes, broadened federal jurisdiction and recognized certain violent acts directed at victims because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.
According to 2012 FBI hate crime statistics for the U.S., 5,796 criminal incidents were motivated by a bias toward a particular race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity/nation of origin, or physical or mental disability.
Support for victims is crucial
Flint said it is imperative to support victims and to send a counter message that the community does not accept acts of hate or intolerance.
“Victims often feel alone,” Flint said. She said there are 25 active hate groups in Michigan, including a Ku Klux Klan group as close as Fraser. She said the Southern Poverty Law Center website, www.splcenter.org, is a good resource to glean information about such groups.
According to its website, the Southern Poverty Law Center “is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education and other forms of advocacy, the center works toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality.”
Breidenich said hate crime legislation has never been about punishing people for their beliefs or speech, but for criminal actions.
Breidenich urged the attendees to move forward to form a steering committee and reach out to business leaders; school districts; religious communities; the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community; and ethnic groups.
“The purpose of the group is not to be a sounding board for complaints in general of one group towards another, but to support victims and to educate, prepare, prevent and respond to hate-based crimes and also hate-bias incidents occurring in Troy,” he said. “You need to tell the story.”
Some tips Breidenich and Flint shared with the attendees included the following:
• Create an alternative. Do not attend a hate rally, but hold an alternative event in the same hour as a planned hate rally some distance away.
• Denounce hate groups and hate crimes through church bulletins, door-to-door fliers, websites, local cable TV bulletin boards and print advertisements.
“Hate shrivels under strong light,” Flint said.
“This is going to take time,” said Bob Cornwall, pastor of Central Woodward Christian, the initial chair of the steering committee. “Getting the word out and building a coalition takes time. If we can build relationships, that’s all to the better.”
The Troy Alliance Against Hate Crimes will meet again at 7 p.m. Oct. 9 at the Troy Police and Fire Training Center, 4850 John R. Call (248) 524-3447 for information.
About the author
Staff Writer Terry Oparka covers Troy and the Troy School District for the Troy Times. Oparka has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2000 and attended Oakland University and Macomb Community College. Oparka has won an award from the Michigan Press Association and four awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, Detroit Chapter.
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