Educating the community is better than looking only to prosecution as a permanent solution to fighting hate crimes, experts told a packed room in Chevy Chase.
Doron Ezickson, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Washington office, told the Montgomery County residents who filled the Jane E. Lawton Community Recreation Center on Sept. 27 that since the 2016 election there were 147 hate incidents in the county reported to the ADL. He attributed them to the polarized political climate and said that the response to anti-Semites and white supremacists should be education, not condemnation.
“Haters want us to be dislocated in our life,” he said. “They want to try to create disruption. And if we overreact or set out to blame one another, we are actually doing the work of the haters.”
Ezickson said his first assignment with the ADL was to talk to schoolchildren who had drawn swastikas in chalk on the ground about the historical meaning of the symbol.
“I spent the day with them and educated them,” he said. “That’s the process of changing our society.”
But when it comes to satisfying the short-term need to prosecute the perpetrators, there isn’t much police can do if there’s no evidence that a certain religious, racial, ethnic or other minority was targeted.
“Hate crimes are very difficult to prove, and they are one of the few crimes where motive is an element,” said Lynda Earle, a representative of the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Anti-Semitic fliers were found in a Chevy Chase neighborhood on Sept. 5. Earle said that some actions, such as distributing fliers, are offensive, but the perpetrator cannot be charged if there is no crime. The only crime that a flier distributor could have been charged with is trespassing.
Still, Earle urged attendees to notify law enforcement if they believe they are being targeted because of their religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and the like.
“Call the police because later on, when you call them, [it may be helpful because] they may have 20 more incidents, and your call may help identify who it is,” she said.
The discussion was organized by Joel Rubin, a member of the Chevy Chase Town Council. “We’re stronger together,” he said. “It’s not just a cliché, it’s really true.”