A Monmouth County official described the growing challenge from hate groups and bias crimes in a talk at Temple Beth Ahm in Aberdeen.
The number of hate groups, most of them white supremacist, jumped nationally from 500 seven years ago to 926 today, according to Det. David D’Amico of the professional responsibility and bias crimes bureau’s community relations unit at the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s office.
The only state with more hate crimes than New Jersey is California, said D’Amico. New Jersey has the unenviable position of being the only state where “every hate group known to law enforcement” is represented. It also has the nation’s toughest bias crimes laws.
“The difference between 1910 and 2010 is that they’re not wearing sheets anymore,” said D’Amico. “But they are here and they are growing.”
D’Amico spoke Feb. 23 at a program cosponsored by the temple’s sisterhood, the Matawan-Aberdeen chapter of Hadassah, and the Holocaust, Genocide & Human Rights Education Center at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft.
D’Amico said his own experiences as an Asbury Park police officer strengthened his resolve to fight hatred. He was sent into Manhattan to help after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, “where 3,000 people were murdered because of hate.”
“I walked through the ashes of my fellow police officers and firefighters and saw the limbs of those who jumped to their deaths,” he recalled. “I relive it every Sept. 11.”
D’Amico, who is gay, also described his own experiences as a target of abuse and bias. D’Amico stressed that most of the bias crimes committed in Monmouth County and elsewhere are perpetrated by young people, and the hatred that they feel, he said, is most often taught in their own homes.
“When I read juveniles their rights, and the parents must be present because of their age, I ask them where they learned this,” he said. “Overwhelmingly, they say, ‘Right there,’ and point to their parents.”
The main target of hate crimes in the county are blacks, with Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs —who are often mistaken for Muslims because of their turbans — second. Gay men and Mexicans are next, but D’Amico is convinced they are in fact higher on the list, but that victims fail to report incidents out of fear and mistrust of law enforcement.
Dale Daniels, executive director of the Brookdale center, said it runs a 12-week education program for juveniles convicted of bias crimes that has proven to be a deterrent.
“We’ve had 71 people go through the program, and not one has ever returned for having committed a bias crime,” she added.