DETROIT - No one familiar with American history can discount the role that bias has played in shaping both our nation and state. From the historical use of legislation to isolate selected groups, to the use of burning crosses to intimidate, our shared history is equally riddled with hatred and the struggle to triumph over it.
Now is the time to join that fight.
In July when several residents of the city of Eastpointe received racist and threatening letters, many in the community stepped forward to announce that such actions are completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
In addition to the Eastpointe incident, real-life examples of recent hate crimes include a man in Jackson who purchased a home, only to have it defaced by racist graffiti in April. His experience, at least, has a positive ending: A group of volunteers with Habitat for Humanity replaced the siding on his house the following month. In March, Auburn Hills families received plastic Easter eggs containing propaganda for the Aryan Nations, a neo-Nazi group. Other incidents include hanging nooses or racist graffiti.
But in the face of this continued onslaught of hate, many in Michigan are organizing to fight back by forming Community Response Systems (CRSs) to prevent and counter bias incidents.
In June, representatives from several cities met in Lansing with staff from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and volunteers from the Michigan Alliance Against Hate Crimes (MIAAHC). This all-day meeting was part of the continuing follow up to the 2009 MI Response to Hate conference, where 16 communities expressed an interest in assembling their own local CRS to respond to hate.
Simply put, a hate crime is a ‘criminal act of intimidation, harassment, physical force or threat of force, directed against a victim which is motivated by bias against a protected group based on real or perceived race, color, ethnic background, national original, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of the victim. The perpetrator acts intentionally, to cause fear, intimidation, or additional pain/suffering to the victim or intends to deter the victim from free exercise or enjoyment of rights and privileges secured by the Constitution, State or Federal law.’
According to Leslie Stambaugh with the Ann Arbor Human Rights Commission, Michigan has been working with other communities to set up CRTs since 1999. She added, “The teams take different forms, depending on the community. Ann Arbor’s CRS is appointed by the Mayor and some of the members are from the Human Rights Commission.”
MIAAHC volunteer Melissa Pope stated “…a group often comes together in response to a given incident. It would be preferable, in terms of prevention, to start when children are young to get buy-in. Having teachers, parents, and pastors involved helps with community acceptance.”
Building upon the 2009 statewide conference, several of these communities have been making steady progress toward organizing an effective system. In Canton, Lt. Todd Mutchler heads up a response team that includes the Plymouth-CantonCommunitySchools, the Canton Police, Equality Michigan, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, the Canton Library District and many others.
Mark Gajeski, Canton Police Department said, “A strong community that accepts everyone is very important. Canton used their demographics to actively seek members representative of those at risk of hate crimes.”
Lt. Mutchler added, “Canton believes wholeheartedly in what these partners are trying to accomplish. The formation of this group also led us to do an internal review of our processes, and we developed some specialized training as a result of getting involved in this coalition.”
Mt. Pleasant’s CRS is one of the newest in Michigan. Their group includes the Isabella County Human Resources Commission, diversity groups, faith-based groups, police and school representatives as well those from CentralMichiganUniversity.
Lansing’s group includes emergency room nurses, staff from the Prosecutor’s Office and people from the Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgendered community. Flint’s initiative is very ambitious: They plan a website, public service announcements for tv and radio. They are engaging a study circle of African and Arab Americans to handle direct and indirect hostilities.
The summer’s activities culminate with the 2010 MI Response to Hate statewide conference which will be held on September 16th in Lansing. Hosts for the event include the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, Michigan Alliance Against Hate Crimes, and U.S. Justice Department. The conference is targeted to law enforcement and others wiling to take an active stance against hate crimes in Michigan.
Guest article by:
Public Information Officer
Michigan Department of Civil Rights