CHEVY CHASE — An energized group of concerned residents, law enforcement, and members of civil rights organizations filled the Jane E. Lawton Community Center on Wednesday night, Sept. 27, gathering for a public forum to discuss the rising number of hate incidents in the community.
The attendees were given information about what to do in the event they or their families are confronted with a hate or bias incident.
Joel Rubin, a member of the Chevy Chase Town Council, moderated the forum. Rubin organized the gathering in reaction to anti-Semitic fliers that had recently been placed outside the front doors of several houses in the usually quiet neighborhood.
“What do you do when hate comes to your town?” Rubin asked in his opening remarks. “This is something I don’t think anyone here in our community expected, and because of that we thought it would be important to have a community discussion about the question of hate in our community.”
Members of the panel included: Paul Tiao, Montgomery County President of Communities Against Hate; Doron Ezickson, D.C. Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League; Lynda Earle of the Office of the State’s Attorney for Montgomery County; and Sgt. Dan Helton of the Montgomery County Police Department’s Community Engagement Division.
“Listen, we have to fight hate with stronger organization,” said Tiao, a former U.S. Attorney who worked in the Civil Rights Unit/Criminal Division of the FBI under former director Robert Mueller. “We can’t prosecute our way out of hate crimes and bias. We have to work together to create a broader scope of change, and that can only be accomplished if we are better organized.”
Communities Against Hate has been very successful in identifying curricula in county schools where, by working to organize diverse neighborhoods, there has been common agreement on changes that should be made that would better educate youth and mitigate bias, explained Tiao.
“The question is: what tools do we have at this particular time to meet this particular challenge,” said Ezickson as he began his segment of the discussion. “One tool, I would say, is engagement, which is what we are doing tonight. We need to ask ourselves: how can we reach out as allies to those who have been victimized?”
The Anti-Defamation League is a non-partisan organization whose mission is “To stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and to secure justice and fair treatment to all,” according to its website.
“I can tell you that over the last year we have seen (hate) incidents on 147 (college) campuses in the United States; so, something is amiss in our society,” said Ezickson.
A message that was consistent throughout the evening with every speaker was, “if you see something, say something.”
One of the biggest challenges that law enforcement has in addressing hate and bias incidents is that they are very difficult to prove, according to State’s Attorney Earle.
“Regarding a hate crime, we have to prove that a crime was committed specifically because of someone’s race, religious belief, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, disability, or homelessness,” said Earle. “So, to have a hate crime, you must first have a crime, then that crime had to have been committed because of one of those things I just mentioned – it’s very, very, very hard to prove.”
Montgomery County has historically not had many hate crimes reported, but the number has jumped from zero in 2016 to 23 in 2017, said Earle.
There were as many as four Montgomery County police officers in attendance during the town forum.
“We work hand-in-hand with the state attorney’s office, and I feel that our communication and relationship has been very effective; we have a very unified county,” said Sgt. Helton. “The Montgomery County Police Department takes hate crime very, very seriously, and we investigate every incident to the fullest when we get a call.”
County residents should never engage with someone who they witness or suspect of committing a hate crime; they should immediately call the police, said Helton.
The audience participated in a 45-minute question-and-answer session after the panel discussion.
Town of Chevy Chase Mayor Mary Flynn and other members of the Town Council were in attendance, as were representatives from the offices of Maryland senators Ben Cardin (D) and Chris Van Hollen (D), as well as Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-8).