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CROWN - November 2021: MDCR Hosts 'MI Response to Hate' Conference

Extremism and hate crimes are serious problems facing many communities in Michigan and beyond. In response, for more than a decade the Michigan Department of Civil Rights has hosted 'MI Response to Hate', the largest anti-hate crime conference held in the state of Michigan. This year's abbreviated virtual conference was held on October 21 and packed an impressive line-up of speakers and experts on hate and bias. For this year, the conference focused on the type of extremists, their goals and what organizations are doing to address them.

The panelists were Dr. Elizabeth Yates, Assistant Attorney General Karen Hall, Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker, Eastern District of Michigan Attorney Susan DeClercq, Western District of Michigan Attorney Andrew Birge, and Detroit Police Chief James White. The discussion was moderated by Anthony Lewis and Oren Segal from the Anti-Defamation League.

The conference opened with MCRC Commissioner Anupama Kosaraju on the importance of diversity:  

"We continue to be the unrivaled nation only if our democracy remains strong and we're seen as a welcoming nation to that global talent. History reflects contributions immigrants and people of color made to build our country. For example, Chinese workers laid our railroads and more than 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants. Right here in Michigan, the automobile capital of the world is built and thrives on the tall talents of a diverse workforce. Unfortunately, the recent surge of hate crimes and extremism jeopardizes the very essence of America and our global leadership. Our future prosperity and security of all of our people will depend on our nation dealing swiftly with this rise in hate crimes and extremism.  We must recognize our legacy on what has propelled our country to become the most prosperous nation on earth and we continue to be the beacon of freedom and opportunity."

Dr. Yates explained that there are generally three types of hate crime offenders: mission offenders - people on a mission to eliminate a community of people; defensive offenders - people who act with a specific, narrow goal such as preventing integration of their neighborhood; and thrill offenders - people seeking to impress their peers or committing a hate crime for fun. Her research with the National Institute of Health shows that each group has an overarching tie-in with nationalist political ideology. For instance, Dylann Roof, who murdered African Americans in a Charleston church, hoped that a white ethnostate would replace the United States government and Roof would obtain a cabinet position for his hate crimes.

"People are feeling threatened and perceiving social demographic change not only in their immediate communities but in the nation as a whole, as we're seeing the country become more diverse," said Dr. Yates. "What we've found is that the growth of xenophobically motivated hate crimes had really increased over time.

"Anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ crimes are ones that are consistently an ongoing issue and problem, and of course anti-African American hate crimes make up the largest percent of hate crimes over time but have shrunk as a percent of other ones [groups experiencing hate crimes]."

"We found that people who describe themselves as being motivated by looking for thrills are definitely younger. They have had relatively high rates of previous criminal history, they are people who may have been involved in criminal things and relatively high rates of substance abuse, they're not terribly stable in general and they often do also have this political engagement through hate groups."

Not everyone falls in the strict categories of mission, defensive or thrill offenders, Dr. Yates explained. People often have mixed motives for committing hate crimes. "If you're someone who has this broader political motivation and broader hateful ideology, you might be someone who is out looking for this kind of opportunity."

"When we're trying to understand where and what kinds of hate crimes will be emerging in the future, we don't want to necessarily draw these strict divisions between people who are reacting and expressing kind of patent prejudice …and people who are expressing this really kind of evolved, developed political ideology."

After Dr. Yates' presentation, panel moderator Oren Segal stated that the annual FBI Hate Crime Statistics Act report revealed that in 2020, there was a 6% increase in reported hate crimes from the previous year -- the highest number tracked by the FBI in 12 years. But Segal cautioned that while this statistic is alarming on its face, the reality is that at least 60 jurisdictions with a population over 100,000 in the United States reported zero hate crimes, which, Segal said, "is frankly just not acceptable."

"Data drives policy, and without having a complete picture of the problem, we cannot even begin to resolve the issues that are driving… a surge of hate and violence in this country."

Panelist Hall pointed out that hate crime has a pernicious effect on survivors because it can lead the survivors to behave in a polarized way; they may either identify more strongly with their group or reject their group altogether. They may adjust their own behaviors such as changing their attire, their route to work and errands, and alter their interactions with others.

Detroit Police Chief White acknowledged that there is a problem with survivors of hate crimes being reluctant to report to the police what happened. The Detroit Police Department is working with communities to try to decrease resistance on reporting these crimes.

Prosecutor Becker clarified that in Michigan, there is no law specifying hate crimes - only ethnic intimidation. "We have to show somebody intimidated or harassed because of race, national origin, color, gender, so you have specific intent, but it's also combined with actions. It's not just words. You have to have actions. They have to assault that person, assault and battery, damage property or make a threat that shows that it is reasonable to assume it could happen, that either an assault or malicious destruction of property will occur."

The panelists were asked whether they thought COVID-19 had an impact on the higher rates of hate crimes, and all agreed that hate crimes have increased during the pandemic. They also agreed that there is hope - policies are becoming more inclusive, more hate crimes are being prosecuted instead of being ignored, and important conversations are happening. Hate crimes are being fought on multiple fronts, according to the panelists.

To view the video of the MI Response to Hate conference, click here.