Threats spur safety talk for Jewish community

By: Sherri Kolade | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published May 24, 2017

WEST BLOOMFIELD — This year alone, the Jewish community locally and nationwide has had its share of threats and violence. 

In West Bloomfield, the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit received a bomb threat Jan. 18 as a string of other bomb threats went out across the nation around the same time frame. No bomb was found at the JCC.

A few months later, on March 14, Andre Douville, CEO of Walk for Israel, discovered that someone had hacked into the nonprofit’s website and posted racial slurs that included an expletive and telling “Zionists” and people of Jewish descent to “please walk into hell.” 

Mort Meisner, marketing and public relations manager for Walk for Israel, said recently that the police did an investigation and think an overseas group did that; there have been no arrests. 

“People that hate target all sorts of minorities,” he said, adding that the annual Walk for Israel event in May was one of the most successful they’ve ever had. 

“Nobody affiliated with Walk for Israel is going to allow the hatred or vitriol (to) put a damper on what was a very important day.” 

Andy Arena, Detroit Crime Commission executive director and former agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit office, discussed issues May 9 at Temple Israel’s “A conversation about anti-Semitism, threats to the Jewish community, and a community response with the Detroit Crime Commission and Andy Arena.” 

He praised the temple’s 24-hour surveillance camera system.

“By necessity, go out of the way to protect yourselves,” he said. 

He said it is noteworthy that 48 JCCs in 26 states and one Canadian province received a total of 60 bomb threats in January 2017, according to the Detroit Crime Commission.

At the end of February, bomb threats hit 11 more JCCs nationwide, totaling to 68 incidents targeting 53 JCCs.

DCC Deputy Director Ellis Stafford said that while the DCC published the statistics on nationwide JCC bomb threats, they were pulled from the FBI, the Southern Poverty Law Center and other organizations.

Stafford said he is sure that there have been other threats that were never reported. 

He noted that the reports were compiled during President Barack Obama’s administration, but it seems that people are more “emboldened” to say and act how they feel now “with regard to minorities, Jewish folks,” Stafford said, adding that the overall threats are concerning and “disheartening.”

“We can’t build a wall around each other — at the end of the day, we all bleed red.”

Stafford added that he doesn’t believe that a majority of Americans have that violent mindset.

“I think the majority of Americans are good, decent people and they are fair, (law) abiding citizens,” he said.

“I’m here to talk about threats — what is the threat of terrorism? What is the threat of hate crimes and what can we do? The Jewish community historically has been such a target.”

Arena said a number of supremacist groups have a presence in Michigan, including the Ku Klux Klan. 

 “At one point, the head of the Aryan Nations lived in southeast Michigan,” he said, adding that there seems to be an inability to compromise and talk to one another. “We live in an environment with the hate that we see now, the discourse … (and it) only amplifies the threat by these groups.”

Arena said members of the Jewish community have to “be cognizant” of threats coming from any group.

He said that not every threat can be stopped because hate is one of the oldest feelings out there, and it will never be eradicated.

Meisner said crimes and threats against minority groups continue to become more prevalent because hatred in some areas “seems to be en vogue.” 

Meisner said many people want to tie that hate to the current presidential administration, but he does not believe that is accurate.

“I think just a lot of people who are purveyors of hate have come out of their rabbit holes and feel like it is open season on minorities. They need to go back into their holes and not bother the rest of us.”

During a question-and-answer segment, some attendees asked whether law enforcement had been prepared for the September 2001 terrorist attacks and how much of Arena’s time is devoted to campus hate crimes.

Arena said that when 9/11 occurred, the FBI and the CIA “didn’t talk to one another.”

“Now that you got the Detroit Crime Commission … the lines of communication are ... improved enough so you guys are talking to one another and (are) not doing it in (isolation),” Arena said, adding that much of that lack of communication stemmed from which agency would brief Congress quicker. “We wanted to look better than the FBI and look better than the (National Security Agency).”

When it comes to hate crimes on college campuses, they are a microcosm of the greater society.

“Most every university has a law enforcement contingent ... so they’re becoming more educated, more cognizant of the threat that is out there,” he said.

West Bloomfield Police Chief Michael Patton said that because of the threats, the public is going to see a change in government response.

“What I think you will see is further engagement, perhaps fine-tuning some of the response,” Patton said.

“I think the overall coordinated response is enhanced when the facilities’ managers are on the same page as police, fire and emergency responders,” Patton said, adding that reasonable expectations should be met when an emergency call is made. 

“What will be the response? What we will do or say when we get there? What will their role be?”

Patton added that staying safe boils down to personal situational awareness, which should be heightened in public. 

“Don’t live in fear ... but be aware of what goes on around you when you go into an environment,” Patton cautioned, adding that people should always know where the closest exit is.

“Enjoy the movie or what you are doing at the JCC, but all of a sudden you hear a gunshot, what you thought was an explosion,” Patton said. “Bring that kernel back and look at the exits.” 

JCC officials did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

The Detroit Crime Commission, founded in 2011, is a public charity that serves to help people, agencies and organizations achieve better public safety in southeast Michigan.

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