By Mike Charla
On March 8th the James Byrd Jr. Center to Stop Hate braved the northeast cold once again to conduct a hate crimes training for law enforcement officers at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. The event came a few weeks after the Byrd Center conducted their largest training to date in nearby Southbridge, MA. Both trainings were day long symposiums that educated attendees on current state and federal hate crime statutes, ways to conduct mindful and appropriate hate crime investigations, and the reasons why hate crime laws are necessary in our communities.
Like many campuses across the United States, the College of the Holy Cross has not been spared from rising hate crimes. Early last school year, the college faced several instances of hateful graffiti and vandalism, which included swastika drawings and the destruction of property that targeted marginalized groups. Then, on October 27th, 2018, tensions peaked when Holy Cross alerted the community that an aggravated assault and battery, motivated by anti-LGBTQ+ bias, had occurred on campus the night before. With this backdrop, I saw the opportunity to have the Byrd Center, where I am interning, and my still healing Holy Cross community, where I am currently a Junior, come together to make improve the response to hate crimes and hate incidents.
The Byrd Center’s Josue Romauldo and the Matthew Shepard Foundation’s Cynthia Deitle took the lead in the Holy Cross training. The Byrd Center also partnered with Danial Harren, of the Assistant District Attorney’s Office, in addition to Cliff Goodband, and Jonathan Burke, from the Attorney General’s Office, all of whom provided legal expertise on Massachusetts’ state hate crime statutes. We worked closely with Chief de Jong and Lt. Barriere, of the Holy Cross Department of Public Safety (DPS), who helped organize, plan, and make the training possible. Those who attended the training were representative of members of the Holy Cross DPS and numerous Police Officers and prosecutors from nearby colleges and towns.
The educational experience was supplemented by myself and Mr. Kasey Catlett, Director of Holy Cross’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, as we shared our lived experiences with hate incidents. For my piece, I recounted a conversation I had with a friend involved with the LGBTQ+ community during the time of the assault last October. In our conversation, my friend explained how, after the assault, members of his community were too afraid to go out on weekends, or too afraid to even walk to the library past sunset. I shared with the group how the conversation resonated with me as I, an individual who exists outside the LGBTQ+ community, had continued my life with little to no change after the incident. I tried to convey the reality that the individuals in the targeted community felt they could no longer live that quintessential college lifestyle because of the attack; something I take for granted on a daily basis.
During the lunchtime speaker discussion, Mr. Catlett shared his personal experience as a victim of a bias incident. He walked us through the good and the bad of interacting with law enforcement throughout the investigation process. Mr. Catlett shared the moments when he felt supported and when he felt dismissed, expressing the frustrating dichotomy of pursuing justice as a victim of bias crimes. His story resonated with the attendees as he provided context for what the victim goes through during such an emotional crime.
The training allowed attendees to talk candidly about hate in their communities with us and with other local law enforcement and legal experts, many of whom had past experiences working with hate in their communities. Through the training we were able to create a space to grapple with the difficult discussions surrounding hate; discussions which are becoming increasingly necessary in our contemporary world.