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Beaumont rabbi ties tolerance of hate speech, rise in hate crimes

November 14, 2018

Hate crime increased 17 percent last year from 2016, the FBI said Tuesday, rising for the third consecutive year as heated racial rhetoric and actions have come to dominate the news.

Of the more than 7,100 hate crimes reported last year, nearly 3 out of 5 were motivated by race and ethnicity, according to the annual report. Religion and sexual orientation were the other two primary motivators.

In addition to the tense political climate, the increase also points to a growing awareness among various law enforcement agencies of the importance of identifying and reporting hate crimes to the FBI.

Of the nearly 200 hate crimes reported in Texas last year, two racially motivated incidents were reported in Beaumont and Silsbee. Both city police departments said they had no knowledge of the specific incidents, but said it was possible the hate crimes were reported by other reporting agencies, which include public schools, universities, counties and cities.

Reporting hate crimes to the FBI is voluntary. Last year, roughly 1,000 more agencies submitted data than those that did the previous year.

The FBI said it planned to train law enforcement officers next year on how to do a better job of identifying and reporting bias-motivated incidents. The Justice Department has also launched a new website on hate crimes.

“This report is a call to action — and we will heed that call,” Matthew Whitaker, the acting attorney general, said in a statement. “The Department of Justice’s top priority is to reduce violent crime in America, and hate crimes are violent crimes. They are also despicable violations of our core values as Americans.”

Black people accounted for nearly half of hate crime victims last year, the FBI said. Of those targeted based on religion, 58 percent were Jewish.

A man accused of fatally shooting 11 worshipers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh last month had taken to social media to accuse a Jewish organization that helps to resettle migrants of bringing “invaders” to “kill our people.”

Rabbi Mathew Michaels, the interim rabbi at Beaumont’s Temple Emanuel, called the mass shooting “the worst attack on a religious affiliation in the history of America.”

Michaels attributed the rise in hate crimes across the country to “an environment of acceptability” toward hate speech and related rhetoric that is “condoned, by example, from the highest ensconce in our government.”

Michaels said he believes a segment of society has become “intolerant of anybody who is other than themselves,” leading to isolationist attitudes that factor into hate crimes that target religious or ethnic groups.

“As a religious leader, it’s my role to look at what advice or counsel my religious faith system offers to these complex social issues,” Michaels said.

The Temple Emanuel’s annual Love Thy Neighbor Interfaith Sabbath Celebration is a community-wide effort to “foster involvement and understanding on an interfaith level,” Michaels said.

“The more we understand others, the more we understand ourselves,” he said.

But rising hate crimes is “not just a Jewish issue,” Michaels said.

Much of the country’s political discourse in recent years has been fueled by deep racial divisions.

“For the NAACP, we began to see this during the presidential election in 2015,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the organization. “The level of tribalism that was being fueled by presidential candidates, the acceptance of intolerance that has been condoned by President Trump and many others across the country has simply emboldened individuals to be more open and notorious with their racial hatred.”

This story was written by John Eligon of the New York Times. Local reporting was added by Phoebe Suy of the Beaumont Enterprise.

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