State assistant attorney general to hold workshop on hate crimes

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published July 14, 2021


MADISON HEIGHTS — Hate crimes continue to occur across the country, often directed at ethnic and sexual minorities. In Madison Heights, a city with hundreds of minority-owned businesses, city officials have been discussing ways to protect its most vulnerable.

In an effort to help residents identify and address hate crimes, the city is hosting a presentation on the topic by Michigan Assistant Attorney General Sunita Doddamani, to be held at 5:30 p.m. July 26 in the council chambers at City Hall, 300 W. 13 Mile Road, prior to that night’s City Council meeting.  

Madison Heights Mayor Roslyn Grafstein, herself a Jewish person, noted that there were hate crimes against Jews in May, including a brick thrown through the window of a kosher pizzeria in Manhattan and vandalism at synagogues in Arizona, Illinois and New York. In March, eight people in the Atlanta area were left dead after a series of shootings targeting people of Asian descent. And just last month, a suspect attacked several people in New York City while making anti-Muslim statements.

“Unfortunately, there are many more examples across the country,” Grafstein said in an email. “I think many people being at home for a year in front of their skewed social media, along with the huge divide we see in partisan politics at the federal level, have come together to create a multitude of people hurt and lashing out, looking for a scapegoat for their personal problems. Tunnel vision is causing people to see only what falls into their narrative, instead of seeing that small piece of truth inside the big picture.”

As assistant attorney general, Doddamani is in charge of the the state’s hate crimes and domestic terrorism unit. She said she hopes the talk will help put things in perspective.

“I look forward to having an open dialogue about what our unit does for the Department of the Attorney General, as well as educating participants about hate crimes and knowing their rights,” Doddamani said via email.

Michigan’s Ethnic Intimidation Act makes ethnic intimidation a felony offense punishable by up to two years in prison, or by a fine of up to $5,000, or both. It’s taken very seriously, although experts are still trying to understand what causes it.  

“It’s hard to tell exactly what motivates hate crimes because of the difficulty of collecting data,” Doddamani said. “(Hate crimes) are vastly underreported, and there are many barriers to reporting. This will all be discussed in the presentation.”

While the exact motivation differs from case to case, there are some apparent trends. According to state police, roughly two-thirds of hate crimes were racially motivated in 2019, the most recent year for which data was available. Of the remaining third, most were hate crimes based on religion and sexual orientation, while a small percentage were based on gender or disabilities.

Overall, there were 524 reported hate crimes in Michigan in 2019, a 2% decrease from 2018. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, there were more than 7,300 hate crime incidents nationwide in 2019, an increase from each of the previous four years.

If you find yourself being the target of a hate crime, Doddamani said you should call 911 for assistance as soon as possible. Running, hiding or fighting should be a last resort when faced with physical violence, but it is best not to engage if possible. When faced with a verbal threat, record the threat in writing and take down a description of the perpetrator, noting the direction they went.

In the event of an electronic threat, do not delete it — instead, print it or photograph it so you can then share it with law enforcement. The same should be done with written or visual threats, taking care to also note the date, time and place.

Grafstein said that Madison Heights is no stranger to diversity. She hopes people will continue to learn from each other and better understand each other.

“Our city, just like the country, is comprised of people with varying backgrounds,” she said. “One quarter of residents are foreign-born. Aside from being born in different places, we have people who look different and who sound different from each other. Our differences are important — they are what makes our county and our community great.

“As a Jew, I have found that the misconceptions people have are often based on ignorance, and unfortunately people can turn ignorance into prejudice and even hate,” Grafstein said. “The best way to overcome this is through learning and keeping an open dialogue — to understand that you will never know what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes, but you can still appreciate and respect that their past and their experiences shape who they have become.”