Last week, representatives of more than 40 organizations met in Trenton to share ideas about how to cooperate in the fight against hate groups.
N.J. Attorney General Stuart Rabner addressed the first "New Jersey Unites Against Hate" summit last week.
"The goal was to demonstrate to the people in New Jersey that we are united in our efforts to combat bias and hate crimes," said Paul B. Winkler, executive director of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education. Winkler, who has been monitoring Internet hate sites said that hate groups have an advantage over New Jersey’s anti-bigotry organizations in how quickly and effectively they are able to share information with each other.
"It made me realize the haters are unified and can communicate very quickly, but the groups fighting hate don’t even have a listing of [other] groups fighting hate in the state," he told The Jewish Standard on Tuesday.
Winkler consulted with other anti-hate groups on how to strengthen communication and the result was the "New Jersey Unites Against Hate" summit, held April 19 at the State House Annex in Trenton. The planning committee was made up of the N.J. Holocaust Commission, the N.J. office of the Anti-Defamation League, the N.J. Attorney General’s Office’s Division of Criminal Justice, the N.J. Holocaust & Civil Rights Commissions, the N.J. Human Relations Council, the N.J. Civil Rights Commission, N.J. Amistad Commission, and the American Conference on Diversity.
The conference was the first of its kind in the state.
State Attorney General Stuart Rabner opened the forum by remembering the Virginia Tech massacre just a few days earlier and connecting it to the work of the anti-hate organizations.
"This heinous massacre is a somber reminder that hatred and violence are all too prevalent in today’s society," he said. "And it reinforces the reasons we need to have summits like these."
Rabner, who came to the attorney general’s office from Passaic County, shared statistics from New Jersey’s ‘005 Uniform Crime Report, the most recent UCR available. The report ranked New Jersey No. 3 in the nation for reporting hate crimes; 79’ bias incidents were reported in ‘005. Harassment accounted for 37 percent of all bias offenses, and racial bias accounted for 47 percent.
Judaism was the religion most frequently targeted by bias crime; blacks represented the racial group most frequently victimized; and Hispanics were the ethnic group most frequently victimized. More than one-quarter of all bias crimes took place in a school environment and approximately one-half of all bias crimes were committed by 11- to 17-year-olds, Rabner said.
"These children need to be taught tolerance as they are growing up, both with words and with actions," he said.
Rabner then addressed the dangers of focusing solely on hate groups.
"When thinking about the incident at Virginia Tech, the Oklahoma City bombings, and Don Imus, you may have realized that, unlike the Waco situation or the Holocaust, these acts of hatred were carried out by individuals, and not a larger group," the attorney general continued. "The majority of those who commit hate crimes are individuals who have heard the ethnic and racial stereotypes, wholeheartedly believe them to be true, and decide to act on impulse."
Brian Marcus, director of the national ADL division of Internet monitoring for civil rights, led a workshop on understanding hate on the Internet and practical ways to respond. The American Conference on Diversity led a program on how to facilitate community dialogue; and state Sen. Diane Allen (R-Dist. 7) led a workshop on how to deal with the media.
"In light of current events in the state and in the country, it’s always good to have a dialogue on diversity and anti-bias," said Robin Roland, assistant regional director of the ADL’s New Jersey office and a member of the summit’s planning committee.
Given the statistics, organizers sought to make young people a large part of the program.
Teenagers from The COW Project which stands for Changing Our World spoke about furthering tolerance through music, dance, and poetry, and a panel of students in their early ‘0s held a dialogue about their experiences with prejudice. The panel was made up of a Jew, a Muslim, an Indian, an African American, and a disabled person, who called for support systems for younger generations dealing with hate.
"One of the things that resonated with me was the presence of young people and what that means with respect to doing this type of work," said Hester Agudosi, deputy chief of the Division of Criminal Justice, another of the conference’s organizers.
"If we really want to effectuate change, then we have to partner with young people and utilize a lot of the talent and energy that these young people have," she told the Standard on Monday.
The summit achieved its goal of bringing the state’s anti-hate groups together, Agudosi said. They often operate "in isolation," she said, when they should be communicating.
That isolation was evident during the summit’s planning stages when organizers had difficulty tracking down all the groups that should be invited. While there are many lists of the hate groups operating in New Jersey and throughout the country, no one had a comprehensive list of the organizations fighting hate.
A directory is one of the ideas that came out of the meeting, garnering support from the majority of attendees, Winkler said.
Winkler said that a post-summit planning committee will meet next month to discuss possible future meetings and other ideas generated at the summit.