By Stacey Dresner
HARTFORD – Halfway through the Connecticut General Assembly’s 2021 legislative session, the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut (JFACT), the government and community relations arm of the Jewish Federations in the state, is hard at work lobbying in support of several bills and issues that impact the Jewish community.
One of JFACT’s greatest priorities has been educating Jewish agencies around the state about a new state security grant for houses of worship and nonprofit organizations that are at risk of hate crimes. JFACT led the effort to pass the bill approving the state grant, and it became law in March of 2020.
“The number one priority for the Jewish community over the last few years has been to combat the rise in antisemitism which has been well-documented by the Anti-Defamation League and the FBI,” JFACT Executive Director Michael Bloom told the Jewish Ledger last year. “The $5 million inside this legislation will allow Houses of Worship across Connecticut to help secure their buildings against a future attack.”
Organizations, like synagogues, day schools and other Jewish and non-Jewish nonprofits whose grant proposals are accepted, could receive as much as $50,000 for security projects.
These projects include the reinforcement of entryways with ballistic glass, solid core doors, double door access, computer-controlled electronic locks, remote locks on all entrance and exits, and door buzzer systems; the use of security cameras throughout a building and at all entrances and exits; penetration-resistant vestibules; and other security infrastructure improvements and devices.
Gov. Ned Lamont approved the release of the $5 million in state bonding to fund the competitive grant late last year.
And it has been competitive indeed.
More than 380 organizations have applied for the grant from the Department of Emergency Service and Public Protection.
“I found out a month ago that 380 had applied, so requests will far exceed the $5 million we were able to secure for this grant,” Bloom said. “I have been reaching out to legislators to see if they would consider playing, adding at least another five million in bonding legislation… I think, especially the Jewish community clearly sees the rise in hate that has been building over the past 10 years in our country. I think now after the Jan. 6 incident at the U.S. Capitol and the rise in Asian-American hate crimes, the eyes of many more have been opened to the growing number of hate crimes in this country.”
A bill co-sponsored this legislative session by State Senator Saud Anwar (D-South Windsor) would also deal with hate by creating a new unit of the Connecticut State Police to investigate hate crimes. This bill was voted out of the Public Safety committee by a vote of 22-3 and will now go to the Senate for a vote.
“This is great news because more resources are needed to address this new wave of hate,” Bloom said.
Senate Bill 122, “An Act Establishing A Unit Within The Division Of State Police To Investigate Hate Crimes And Criminal Acts Committed By Extremist Groups,” would establish a Hate Crimes and Extremist Group Investigative Unit within Connecticut State Police. That unit would prevent, investigate, detect and assist law enforcement concerning any alleged crime violating hate crime statutes or motivated by bigotry or bias, as well as investigate actions by any individual or group encouraging, condoning, justifying or supporting commission of violent crime to achieve political, ideological, religious, social or economic goals.
“I wish it weren’t so, but we have seen a rising trend of hate crimes across our country, and the FBI continues to warn of extremists capable of committing violence,” said Sen. Anwar. “We have seen the tragic consequences of leaving this trend unchecked in brutal events that have occurred across the country. As a result, we need to make sure the victims of these crimes can receive restitution – and just as importantly, we must do all we can to prevent and protect against future crimes. I’m encouraged to see the Public Safety Committee strongly favor this legislation and I look forward to fighting for it on the Senate floor. Our community is only as strong as our unity, and we must stand up against hate when it threatens to divide us.”
According to FBI statistics, Connecticut saw 76 hate crimes reported in 2019, the most recent year in which data has been compiled. Of those hate crimes, 48 were directed against an individual’s race, ethnicity or ancestry, 16 involved an individual’s religion, 11 involved sexual orientation and one involved gender. A recent report from the Anti-Defamation League tracked 193 incidents of hate, extremism and antisemitism in Connecticut in 2019 and 2020, additionally noting the year saw the highest level of white supremacist propaganda circulated in the United States in decades.
The Hate Crime unit would further compile, maintain and analyze data regarding these crimes and publish an annual report providing information about them. Law enforcement units would also submit reports to the Hate Crimes and Extremist Group Investigative Unit no more than 14 days after reports of hate crimes or extremist acts, and beginning in 2022, state police will develop a standardized form allowing such reports to be easily made.
Another bill, SB 989, An Act Concerning Online Harrassment, dealing also with online hate crimes, has also been a priority for both JFACT and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
The bill has been introduced to the Senate.
Steve Ginsburg, director of the ADL’s Connecticut Regional office, gave testimony in support of the bill to the Judiciary Committee last month.
“SB 989 is a critical bill that will close certain gaps in Connecticut’s legal framework and send an important signal all residents in our state,” Ginsburg said. “We’re giving law enforcement the tools they need to hold perpetrators responsible and to protect and empower vulnerable groups and individuals. If passed, this law will bring to light the very serious consequences of malicious and hateful online conduct and make Connecticut a national leader in the fight against online hate.”
Main Photo: JFACT Executive Drector Michael Bloom