U.S. Attorney: 'If hateful speech becomes acceptable, then violent conduct can follow'
Earlier this month, an Egyptian-Lebanese family near Toledo was targeted by vandals, who spray-painted a swastika and anti-Arab graffiti on the family’s garage. In Cincinnati this past weekend, swastikas and other profane and vulgar graffiti was left on a school that is predominately non-white.
So...are hate crimes are on the rise in Ohio, or are these just isolated incidents?
To get some perspective I spoke with Carole Rendon, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
RENDON: “So what I can talk about are the cases that we prosecute under the hate crime statutes, and we have not seen a significant increase in the number of those cases being presented to us for prosecution. We have had sort of a steady-stream of these types of cases over the years, involving an arson of an African-American church in Conneaut; the burning of the largest mosque in Toledo; the Amish hate crimes case that was in the media; and currently we have two defendants awaiting sentencing in Toledo for attacking an African-American individual who they didn’t even know, just because of the color of his skin. So these cases happen, and they are very disturbing, and when they do we seek to aggressively prosecute them and hold people accountable.”
GANZER: “What sort of infrastructure is in place in Ohio for prosecuting things like this, and even just reporting them and keeping them in the public eye?”
RENDON: “So here in the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Northern District, in 2015 we created a free-standing civil rights unit to address not just the hate crimes prosecutions, but all of the other civil rights that we are charged with enforcing: human trafficking; all of the enforcement of our civil civil rights statutes like the Americans with Disabilities Act, fair housing laws, and others. And we did so that we could concentrate in one place expertise amongst a group of lawyers who would be able to effectively handle these cases. And in that unit we have two criminal prosecutors and two civil prosecutors who handle those cases, as well as a full-time investigator, and so they’re really tasked with ensuring that we are effectively enforcing the civil rights of our country for the entire district. The other thing that they do that is very helpful, along with Mike Tobin who is in charge of our community outreach program, is they get out into the community on a regular basis, as do I, to let people know that we’re here, what our authority is, how they can reach us if there’s a problem—because unless somebody reports these types of events to us, we may not ever know that they’ve happened and then we can’t take action to ensure that people are being properly protected.”
GANZER: “Sure, that is a question: what do you say to people who may see something, that they’re not quite sure…is this a hate crime, for example? Or if there is just something written on a window, or a wall—at what point do you think it’s reportable or is everything reportable?”
RENDON: “In essence, everything really is reportable. If somebody sees something, or hears something and it’s not right, they think that somebody’s being attacked because of their sexual orientation, or they see signage that seems to be attacking a group because of their religious beliefs, they need to let us know, they need to let law enforcement know. They can call our office and ask for our civil rights unit, that’s why they exist. Or they can call the FBI, or their local police department. But unless people speak out we’re really hampered in our ability to make sure that everyone is being protected.”
GANZER: “And is there anything else you think people should keep in mind, especially as there is a lot of uncertainty in the country right now?”
RENDON: “So not so much in terms of uncertainty, but the thing that I would tell people to keep in mind is: if hateful speech becomes acceptable, then violent conduct can follow easily. And we all need to be vigilant to make sure that we are respecting other people even if they are different from us: if the color of their skin is different, their national origin, the language they speak, their sexual orientation, the god that they pray to, or people who choose not to pray to any god. We need to all respect one another in our speech, in our actions, and we need to demonstrate for the whole world, not just for our community, that America really is that shining light, that beacon of hope, the place where everybody can come and be accepted for who they are, and seek their own path and their own dream.”