Increase in hate crimes; Westford among communities reporting incidents

WESTFORD – The city is among communities in which 46 hate crimes have been reported through the Middlesex District Attorney’s online form, as law enforcement agencies track and escalate incidents.

An increase in hate crime reports highlighted the November 30 virtual meeting of the Anti-Hate / Anti-Prejudice Working Group of Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan.

“We know that in 2020 the number of hate crimes in the United States is at its highest level in over a decade,” Ryan said. “Law enforcement agencies have reported to the [Federal Bureau of Investigation] 7,759 of these crimes, an increase of 25%. “

Ryan said the increase reflects increases reported across New England, as well as Middlesex County.

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The incidents reported through the online form occurred in Arlington, Burlington, Cambridge, Dracut, Malden, Newton, Newtonville, North Reading, Pepperell, Somerville, Stow, Sudbury, Westford, Wilmington and Woburn, according to spokesperson Marcela Dwork .

Reports are categorized by race, disability, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, religion and sexual orientation.

Race was the most frequently reported incident type, followed by religion.

The task force has held eight meetings since April 26, 2020. Until the previous meeting, held on October 26, the task force received 33 incident reports, Dwork said.

Westford was one of many communities that formed a diversity, equity and inclusion committee following the murder of George Floyd. The school district also has a panel to explore issues of race, diversity and prejudice.

Tracking data

At the meeting, the task force heard presentations on avenues from states, counties and the federal government to prosecute hate crimes.

“We know that between the end of April and today we have received 46 incident reports,” Ryan said at the meeting.

“The majority was based on race, with smaller numbers based on religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity, in that order,” Ryan said.

Ryan said: “Now we have enough numbers so that we can fill out a map for the 54 communities. [in Middlesex County,] and see what is reported there. “

Law Project

The district attorney’s office has partnered with lawmakers in support of bills, Ryan said, that would strengthen and clarify the state’s hate crimes law.

Ryan, along with Senator Cynthia Creem and Representative Christine Barber, tabled legislation in March to expand hate crimes law, including additional protections for tenants or others targeted at their home or property.

A mystery remains

Westford Police Department spokesperson Captain Victor Neal said an investigation of bomb vandalism reported from July to September 2020 was the only recent hate crime reported to the department.

“We don’t know if it was a person, or a group, or what,” Neal said, noting that police received calls from July 20 to September 7.

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Chelmsford and Westford Police have investigated a slew of reports – including spray-painted anti-Semitic and misogynistic symbols and statements.

Neal said: “We found a can of spray paint and sent it for DNA analysis. But nothing went into further investigation. There was no new information.”

‘Say something’

In response to the spray paint incidents, Westford Select’s board of directors called a special meeting and issued a statement and urged the public to report any information to the police.

Chelmsford Police Chief James Spinney shared an image in July 2020 of a vehicle spray painted with the Star of David - a symbol of Judaism - and the word, "Sat." Chelmsford and Westford Police investigated several reports of hate graffiti and vandalism in the two towns between July and September 2020. The incidents remain unsolved, according to Westford Police Captain Victor Neal.

“The Select Board is angry and saddened that such heinous acts have occurred in our community. Expressions of hate have no place in Westford and do not reflect our shared values ​​of inclusion, mutual respect and tolerance “, says the press release.

Police also shared home security footage which may be linked to the incidents.

“We did research on the incidents that were reported to us, and these are the only ones that were reported,” Neal said. “As they always say – if you see something, say something.”

Defining hate crimes

Hate crimes are motivated by the offender’s prejudices against the victim because the victim is a member of a protected group.

Under state hate crime law, there are three elements of hate crime:

  • Predicate Criminal Offense: The offender assaulted or injured the victim or damaged the victim’s property.
  • Intention of the offender: The offender acted with the intent to intimidate the victim.
  • Protected Victim Characteristic: The offender targeted the victim based on their race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or other protected characteristic.

The perpetrators of hate crimes are generally subject to criminal prosecution and, in some cases, may also be prosecuted in civil proceedings.

Source: Office of the Attorney General

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