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At hate crime forum, leaders stress importance of reporting, while victims ask for more action

Leaders of religious organizations, as well as victims of hate crimes, serve on a panel during the event.
Todd Bookman
/
NHPR
Ali Sekou (right) with the Islamic Society of Concord, speaks during a discussion on community responses to hate group activity.

Stressing a need for awareness and prevention, top law enforcement officers, religious leaders and civil rights advocates gathered in Manchester on Thursday for a community event aimed at eliminating hate crimes in New Hampshire.

The forum, organized by Jane Young, United States Attorney for the District of New Hampshire, and New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella, comes following a rise in locally reported hate crimes, which according to FBI data rose from 19 incidents in 2020 to 34 incidents in 2021.

“When we see it, we can attempt to root it out before it grows and rips apart our community,” Young told the audience.

Over the course of three hours, panelists discussed the line separating protected free speech and a hate crime, noting that each incident is dependent on specific facts and the perception of threat.

Jane Young, United States Attorney for New Hampshire
Todd Bookman
/
NHPR
Jane Young, the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Hampshire, during a forum she organized to combat hate crimes in February 2023.

Tim DeMann, an agent with the FBI, along with Manchester Police Chief Allen Aldenberg, spoke of the importance of reporting suspected hate based actions, even if they don’t rise to the level of a crime, in order to obtain evidence and potentially show patterns of behavior by specific people or groups.

Though the case wasn’t discussed in detail, state officials also highlighted a recent civil petition filed by the state against NSC-131, classified as a neo-Nazi organization by extremism watchers. The group was allegedly responsible for a racist banner that hung over an overpass in Portsmouth last summer.

Allyson Guertin, director of the Jewish Federation of New Hampshire, said the best way to combat hate isn’t to directly engage with those who spew it, but rather to show up in force.

“The power is in the numbers of the people who show that they support diversity and who support different organizations, different religions, and when that number continues to speak up, then we’ve said enough without needing to say anything directly to them,” said Guertin.

With many members of law enforcement in the audience, the forum was also an opportunity for victims of hate crimes and bias to describe the impact of these crimes, noting that local police forces often don’t include a large number of non-white officers.

“They will never be where we are, because they will never be either Black or immigrant or Muslim or whatever hats, because you have to be one of these people to understand how we feel inside and outside,” said Ali Sekou, who leads the Islamic Society of Concord.

Miriam Kovacs, who owns a restaurant in Franklin, also described a feeling of frustration when local police failed to take action after she was targeted on social media over posts that opposed activities by NSC-131.

“Community leaders know the right things to say, but the action isn’t always followed up,” she said.

The forum is part of a national initiative led by the U.S. Department of Justice to bring similar United Against Hate events across the country. Young said her office plans on hosting more events in New Hampshire later this year.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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