Law enforcement leaders provide tips to recognize, report hate crimes
Norwich ― Assistant U.S. Attorney Anastasia King posed hypothetical questions Thursday to about two dozen attendees at the United Against Hate forum at the Sikh Art Gallery in Norwich.
“If a young, Black brother and sister walking down a street hear someone scream racial slurs at them, is it a hate crime?”
“What if a Cambodian woman orders a ride service and the driver says to her, “I hope you don’t have COVID. You shouldn’t be requesting any more rides.”
The audience response was mixed. King didn’t provide a yes or no answer to the questions, but said they could be investigated.
FBI officials joined the Connecticut U.S. Attorney’s Office in the presentation on identifying, reporting and preventing hate crimes.
Connecticut residents, Norwich city officials, members of the Latinos for Educational Advocacy and Diversity (LEAD), the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and University of Connecticut law students participated.
New London Police Chief Brian Wright and Norwich Deputy Chief Corey Poore attended and assured participants that local police take seriously any reports of possible hate crimes.
After the forum, Norwich Alderman Swaranjit Singh Khalsa, founder of the art museum, said LEAD has asked for a similar forum in Spanish. Khalsa, who helped organize Thursday’s event, said he was pleased with the turnout and said more such forums should be held.
“It is very satisfying to see Sikh Art Gallery is providing safe space for these kinds of real discussions,” Khalsa said.
A hate or bias-motivated crime, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, “is a criminal offense motivated by someone’s actual or perceived bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.”
In 2020, the DOJ reported 61.8% of hate crimes or bias incidents involved race/ethnicity/ancestry, while 20% were based on sexual orientation and 13.3% on religion.
King and FBI Public Affairs Specialist Charles Grady of the New Haven field office urged people to report incidents, which will be investigated by federal officials in partnership with local police. King said investigations could reveal a pattern of behavior that could help prevent future incidents.
In one real case, Ted Hakey of Meriden, who lived next door to a mosque, had been drinking while watching TV news about a Paris terrorist attack by Muslim extremists, King said. Hakey set up a firearm on a tripod in his attic and shot into the mosque. No one was in the mosque, but bullets penetrated interior walls.
Hakey pleaded guilty to causing damage to a religious property. But the story did not end with his prison sentence, King said. The religious leader at the mosque met with Hakey, explained that religion extremists did not represent the Muslim faith, and the two men became friends, King said.
Mohinder Singh Kalsi of Norwalk, a member of the Connecticut Sikh community, said he prefers direct education to potential confrontation. He said at times, people say things to him, calling his turban “a rag.” Kalsi said he will tell the person, “It’s not a rag. It is a turban,” and explain why he wears it.
Although laws are on the books that might generally cover potential hate incidents, such as harassment, vandalism, threats and even assault, police and FBI officials said hate laws are important.
King said the First Amendment protects people who say “very ugly things,” but the conduct could involve deprivation of another person’s civil rights.
“Hate crimes affect entire communities,” King said. “People who commit hate crimes often want to scare entire communities, intimidate communities, so that’s why it’s important. Hate crimes can try to convey the message, ‘get out of here,’ or ‘you could be next.’ Following hate crimes, people may feel afraid about going about their normal, at home, work, school, business, even places of worship.”