Forum on combating hate speech held at Upper School
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On Jan. 4 at the Upper School, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and CESJDS hosted a community forum on acts of anti-Semitism that have occurred at local schools and religious institutions.
The event, “Combating Hate Speech, Racism, and anti-Semitism in Schools and Our Community,” consisted of a panel of Montgomery County officials, leaders of Jewish advocacy groups and Head of School Mitchel Malkus, which spoke about the recent rise in anti-Semitic and racist incidents around the area and answered audience questions from 7:30-9 p.m.
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett began the event by explaining that a few months ago, he did not think that anti-Semitism was a major local issue, but that the current situation requires new attention. Leggett used a football metaphor to explain how the local community had gotten better at fighting hate, but recently has taken steps back.
“The ball has been taken all the way down to the 5-yard line, and society was 5 yards away from where we want to be,” Leggett said. “But now, the ball has been picked up, fumbled and taken back behind the 50-yard line.”
The event, Leggett hopes, will help “move the ball in the right direction,” and Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger agrees with Leggett that there is work to be done. There were 87 hate crimes overall in Montgomery County in 2016, marking a 32 percent increase from the 66 committed in 2015. Out of 37 religiously-motivated hate crimes, according to Manger, 31 were against the Jewish community. At the forum, Manger emphasized how important preventing hate crimes is to his department.
“These [hate] crimes not only have a profound impact on the victims, but they can have a major impact on the community,” Manger said. “These are crimes against all of us.”
Though Manger said that hate crimes can be difficult for police to solve, there are ways civilians can help. Manger encouraged citizens to “be a good witness” by reporting everything they see and using technology to record crimes.
Another measure to help fight these hate crimes was presented by Jack Smith, Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent of Schools. Smith said that his most important job is to keep the students in his system safe, but that he also wants to keep schools educated on how to fight hate and bigotry.
“We teach and we learn together,” Smith said. “We give lots of information to principals and teachers … so we are teaching.”
The panel answered audience questions, which covered topics from swastikas drawn in math class to anti-Semitism in neighborhoods, after each member gave a short speech. With a participatory audience and good involvement from the panel, Malkus thought the event was a success.
“I felt that the school needed to step up and provide a forum for local community leaders to speak freely with the community and hear what are the real concerns of people in the community,” Malkus said. “If anything, I think what we’ve done is we’ve shined a light on the issue that we’re facing.”
To read an updated version of this article that was in the Jan. 19 print issue of The Lion’s Tale, click here.