Gov. Maura Healey announced a new initiative against hate crimes that will include forming a state police response team and launching grants for anti-bias education in schools. With hate propaganda surging and hate crimes again starting to rise, the commonwealth hopes to increase its response and prevention efforts.
“Every single person in Massachusetts deserves to live a life free from fear, discrimination, and hatred,” the governor said at a Monday press conference. “The diversity of our community is a source of strength.”
Healey, the first woman and openly gay governor, was joined by a wide-ranging group of local, state, and federal law enforcement to announce the initiative, which comes shortly after a September report documented 440 hate crimes last year — the highest number since 2002.
The state police task force will be dedicated to enhancing federal, state and local partnerships and “liaising with community leaders,” according to the governor’s office. The goal is to strengthen statewide response to hate crimes and incidents, and each task force member will be responsible for specific geographic areas of the state.
What you need to know: Hate crime vs. Hate incident
A hate crime is “any criminal act coupled with overt actions motivated by bigotry and bias,” according to Massachusetts law. Bigotry or bias can be based on “race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.” Hate crimes in Massachusetts have reached their highest number since 2002.
Hate incidents, like the distribution of recruitment flyers in New Bedford this year, are non-criminal acts motivated by bias or discrimination. Hate incidents in Massachusetts are surging, led by the proliferation of white supremacist propaganda.
In 2022, hate crimes that were motivated by the victim’s race, ethnicity or national origin represented more than half of all hate crimes. Bias against religious groups and bias against sexual orientation were the next most common motivators.
Many law enforcement leaders say that the increasing trend is expected to continue into 2023, as hate groups have been sparked into action by high-profile state and international events including a migrant crisis in Massachusetts and a Hamas terrorist attack in Israel that has since led to an Israeli invasion of the Gaza strip.
“Recent events at home and abroad provide a tragic and urgent reminder that no community is immune from the unpredictable and devastating impact of a bias-motivated event,” said John Mawn, Jr., interim colonel of the Massachusetts state police.
Yet among the collected leaders of local and state police, the attorney general’s office, and FBI officials, there was one outlier: state education commissioner Jeff Riley.
Healey’s plan follows guidance from a 2019 task force that recommended an education-based approach to preventing hate crimes. The report, received by then-Gov. Charlie Baker, said that schools were “critical to creating a more inclusive and respectful society that experiences fewer hate crimes.”
A total of $462,000 will be awarded to 10 commonwealth school districts for professional development that can help educators identify and intervene when hate incidents arise. The funds will also help schools collaborate with community groups and other partners.
“Far too often [schools] are on the frontlines of confronting bias-motivated incidents and can be instrumental in preventing hate and creating safe environments for students and their families,” Gov. Healey said. “We are backing up that commitment with resources and investments.”
Secretary of Education Dr. Patrick Tutwiler provided a statement through a press release: “These Hate Crime Prevention grants will allow our schools to tackle the difficult concepts of bias and hate crimes to create safe and nurturing school environments that allow every student to feel supported.”
Other districts can start applying for the second round of these grants, which will be disbursed next year.
The announcement comes after hate incidents have started to arrive on the South Coast and in the greater New Bedford area. NSC-131, a neo-Nazi group, distributed recruitment flyers in New Bedford in October — an event that Mayor Jon Mitchell immediately condemned and reported to the FBI.
That group was also responsible for protests at the Fall River and Taunton libraries during drag queen story time, the reading events meant to promote LGBTQ inclusion.
As a result of these and other incidents, the New Bedford Human Rights Commission organized an anti-hate event at the New Bedford Public Library on Nov. 2. Speakers from the Anti-Defamation League, the FBI’s Boston office, the district attorney’s office, and New Bedford’s NAACP chapter helped residents to understand the increasing threats and how to respond.
Hate incidents are “not tolerable in our city,” was the message from Martin Bentz, chair of the New Bedford Human Rights Commission. “It does not behoove our diversity.”
Gov. Healey wrote on X — formerly Twitter — agreeing, and said that preventing hate crimes aligned with the founding principles of the commonwealth: “acts of hate are attacks on democracy, and we won’t stand for that in our state.”
Email Colin Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org