U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal spoke Friday at the the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford offices in West Hartford about the recent awarding of $3.2 million in Nonprofit Security Grants throughout the state.
By Ronni Newton
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said words are not enough – action is needed in order to combat the rise in hate crimes in the U.S. and right here in Connecticut.
“The stark, blunt, staggering fact is that hate crimes are on the rise in America,” Blumenthal said. “They are reaching record numbers,” he said, in the country as well as in Connecticut where 64 anti-Semitic incidents took place in 2022 according to the most recent statistics – double the number of the previous year.
Hate crimes are a “malignancy that has metastasized, a cancer that is spreading, a virus that will destroy democracy if we fail to stand up and speak out and take action,” he said. Hate crimes impact everyone, in part by creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.
On Friday morning, Blumenthal was in West Hartford, joined by Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford CEO David Waren, Anti-Defamation League CT Regional Director Stacey Sobel, and Urban League of Greater Hartford President and CEO David Hopkins to share the news of recent grants awarded for security training, and also to call for more to be done to combat hate.
A total of 23 faith-related nonprofit organizations in Connecticut will receive $3.2 million from the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program, funds that are intended to be used for training and other security enhancements, including increasing the presence of law enforcement. Among the recipients was the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, which received a grant for $133,700.
The $3.2 million is part of a national program, but Blumenthal said that amount needs to be increased. “I will be working in this year’s budget to vastly expand the amounts of federal funds that are available to faith-related institutions that may be targets of hate crimes or intimidated by them.
Criteria considered in determining the grant award include the following, Blumenthal said: Is there a need? Has there been a threat? Is there a danger? Can the institution pay for it on its own?
Blumenthal also pledged to work to continue to strengthen hate crime laws at the federal level, and said he is also hopeful that in this year’s budget the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service funding will be increased from $25 million to $40 million. During a visit to West Hartford earlier this year, Bluemnthal spoke about the program which supports activities such as facilitating dialogue, mediation, and education and training within communities as well as support of the police to prevent and investigate incidents, and provide support for religious institutions that have are imperiled by hate crimes.
“It’s not a prank, it’s not a joke … hate crimes are a cancer that affects our entire society,” Blumenthal said.
One in four American Jews has been the target of anit-Semitism in the past year according to the ADL, Waren said, and that has forced people to change their behavior, including hiding their identity. “Here is Greater Hartford the Jewish Federation is building a strong security shield … to include the physical hardening of our facilities, training, and crisis management.”
The training that saved lives in a synagogue in Texas last year is being implemented locally, and the grant funding will help pay for site audits needed to determine needed security enhancement.
“Freedom to worship and freedom to engage in communal life are core American values,” Waren said, and security is critically important, not just for the Jewish community.
“It’s comprehensive training … in the pews,” Waren said, for leaders and for congregants, in knowing what to do and how to respond to counteract an active threat. “Congregants are not expected to come in as Rambo,” he said, but many of those who survived at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh had received this type of training and said it saved their lives.
The training is also for law enforcement, and Waren said that approximately 500 law enforcement professionals have already gone through the program.
Sobel spoke about a recent incident in Bristol, where 12 men from a known Neo-Nazi group based in New England stood along a roadway “holding lit torches and banners that read ‘Keep Connecticut white.’ That is not a message we want to teach our children.”
She thanked the senator for calling for the press conference, and elected leaders for using their platform to speak out against hate, and for securing funding for programs like the Nonprofit Security Grant Program.
While Connecticut is the 29th most populous state, Sobel said, “We are ninth in the country for white supremacist propaganda incidents and 11th in the country for anti-semitic incidents.”
ADL is hopeful that the Nonprofit Security Grant Program funding will increase from $302 million to $360 million this year. “From Jacksonville, to Bristol, to Hartford, CT, the threats to vulnerable communities are on the rise and the Nonprofit Security Grant Program could very well be the difference between a close call and yet another tragedy.”
Hopkins said the Urban League has a long history of partnering with the Jewish community, and wants to collectively send a signal that “hate in any form, against any community, is unacceptable. … It’s exciting to see resources being brought to bear to address this issue.”
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