Earlier this week, five Jewish headstones were knocked over in a Philadelphia cemetery, the second time that Jewish graves were vandalized this year in the “City of Brotherly Love.” In Manhattan, a 14-year-old was arrested May 17 for the arson of the Lower East Side’s historic Beth Hamedrash Hagodol Synagogue, which was burned to the ground last Sunday night.
And closer to home, less than two months ago, a swastika was spray-painted on a sign on the property of B’nai Israel Synagogue in East Baltimore.
Scores of hate crimes against Jews and other minority groups have made headlines in recent months and deeply concerned national and local community leaders. Addressing an audience of approximately 150 at the Park Heights Jewish Community Center on May 17, Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh promised to fight back against the tide of intolerance.
“My office will continue to do everything we can to protect Marylanders and to protect their lives,” he said, “and we will be fighting like hell for justice.
“These have been the most difficult and divisive times that I have seen in many years,” said Frosh, 70. “The only thing that I saw that was comparable was during the Vietnam War.”
Frosh was among the guest speakers at the forum “Combating Hate Crimes in 2017,” which was presented by the Baltimore Jewish Council.
The event was a response to the recent rash of bomb threats against Jewish community centers nationwide, as well as the spate of hate crimes targeting the Jewish, Muslim and Hispanic communities. The program aimed to inform the community about what Frosh and other statewide community leaders are doing to tackle hate crimes, which have spiked since the 2016 presidential election.
A Democrat from Montgomery County, Frosh reported a spike in hate crimes and the defacing of schools and synagogues across the state. Since the election, Frosh said he has launched a hotline (1-866-481-8361) for Marylanders to report hate crimes.
“We found after the election there was an upsurge of hate crimes all over the country, and we looked around our state and found there wasn’t a place for reports for these incidents, so we opened a hate crimes hotline,” he said.
Frosh placed much of the blame for the rise in hate crimes on the president, particularly regarding the Trump administration’s executive orders on immigration and the travel ban.
“It’s been very clear to me, with respect to both of these executive orders, that they are illegal, unconstitutional and stupid,” he said. “The First Amendment of the Constitution says everyone in our country has freedom to worship as they please, and no religion will be preferred over any other religion. So when you have a president that issues a press release that literally says, Donald J. Trump supports a complete and total shutdown of the entry of Muslims into the United States, and then he issues executive orders — whether they directly identify a specific religion or not. That’s a violation of the United States Constitution.”
Frosh promised to actively fight the Trump administration’s policies on these matters.
“The campaign that was waged by President Trump and the things he has said and done since the campaign have not helped the lines that have continued to divide our society for many years,” said Frosh. “Trump’s executive orders make us less safe, not more safe. They give propaganda ammunition to ISIS, and they undermine our friends in the Middle East and other Muslim countries.”
In addition, Frosh said the executive orders have hurt the U.S. from an economic viewpoint.
“The United States has been the beneficiary of a brain drain around the world for generations,” he said. “People want to come to the United States because it’s the best place in the world to work and it’s the place in the world where you can get the absolute best education. But if you make it inhospitable to people of certain skin color, or people of a certain religion, it’s very easy to reverse that trend.”
Other political leaders who spoke at the gathering were Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-41st), Del. Shelly L. Hettleman (D-11th) and Del. Carlo Sanchez (D-47B).
Doron F. Ezickson, director of the ADL’s Washington, D.C., regional office, addressed the issue of online hate crimes and expressions of bigotry and intolerance on social media.
“We are seeing the largest proliferation of expressions of hate online,” said Ezickson. “Hate expression online is not allowed. The First Amendment, in its fullest expression, does not apply to social media, and there are standards of conduct that are supposed to govern its content on Facebook, on Google, on Twitter.”
In addition to elected officials, leaders from CASA de Maryland, a Baltimore-based Latino and immigration advocacy and assistance group, and the Greater Baltimore Muslim Council spoke about concerns about the rise in hate crimes in their communities.
Among the audience members was attorney and Owings Mills resident Adam P. Janet, who said he and his wife, Corinne, were leaving the forum with a sense of cautious hope.
“I’m a member of the Jewish community and it was important to hear [about] hate crimes going on in other communities,” said Janet. “It’s encouraging to know that so many good people are working toward common goals of peace and harmony and helping each other.”
Jonathan Schwartz, the event’s co-chair, said the BJC presented the program because “we wanted to demonstrate the power of understanding and unity at a time when some voices seek to sow division and fear. Unfortunately, the climate of tolerance in the United States is not as strong as it once was following recent political events. It is important that we are not silent in response to this disturbing trend.”
Aliza Friedlander is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.
Photo by Zephan Blaxberg
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