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With extremism on the rise, experts say speaking out against hate is more important than ever
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In 2015, a tattoo artist named Raymond Stevens pleaded guilty to criminal mischief after defacing the homes of refugees in Concord with racist graffiti.

The hateful words scrawled on the siding were literal and clear: “You are not welcome here.” Under the state’s Civil Rights Act, prosecutors applied a hate-crime enhancement to Stevens’ sentence, resulting in a year of imprisonment in a county jail.

Hate crimes are often referred to as message crimes — those that target and intimidate an entire group as well as the direct victim. In a 2012 study published in the International Review of Victimology, researchers found that people who were aware of hate-based violence against someone in their community experienced similar symptoms to victims of vicarious trauma, reporting feelings of shock, anger, fear and inferiority.

This “in terrorem” effect of hate crimes is often cited as one of the reasons specific laws addressing them are necessary. But with varying definitions from state to state, inconsistent investigation and reporting by law enforcement and the legal hurdle of proving the intent of the perpetrator, hate crimes remain vastly underreported and rarely prosecuted, leading some to question the effectiveness of this type of legislation.

Incidents decried by the community as hate crimes often don’t end up labeled that way in the courtroom. In 2019, for example, the state’s Civil Rights Unit determined that the near-hanging of a biracial boy in Claremont didn’t meet the criteria for a hate-crime sentencing enhancement. The 13-year-old who pushed the 8-year-old boy off a picnic table while he had a rope around his neck pleaded guilty to misdemeanor simple assault. The Attorney General’s Office found credible evidence that he’d previously used racial epithets against the 8-year-old, but said there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the crime was racially motivated.

These statutes also can’t address instances of racism, hate and bias where a crime hasn’t been committed, such as the 2018 incident at Dover High School when a group of students wrote a jingle about the KKK for a history class assignment, which featured a refrain of “Let’s kill all the Blacks.”

“A person may engage in conduct that may be very harmful and upsetting to the diverse and different communities in New Hampshire because it may be racialized speech, it may be anti-Semitic, it may be homophobic or transphobic,” Sean Locke, director of the N.H. Attorney General’s Civil Rights Unit, explained. “But, ultimately, it isn’t kind of crossing that threshold into trying to encourage violence against those communities.”

In a state like New Hampshire, where roughly 90 percent of residents are white, it’s not uncommon for incidents like these to be treated as an isolated occurrence. However, experts say that a lack of diversity doesn’t translate to a lack of racism, and communities can’t begin to confront hate and bias in their midst without first acknowledging that it’s there.

That’s why they say responses to hate must reach beyond the law into classrooms, workplaces and community spaces — because all hate is harmful, whether or not it meets the legal definition of a hate crime.

“If we’re going to be anti-racist and direct our work towards eliminating forms of hate and bias, we shouldn’t just be doing it on the criminal side,” said Robert Trestan, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League New England. “We need to be doing it in other areas of society.”

Creating a culture

Experts point to education as an essential tool for preventing hate-based extremism and violence. At the same time, reports of hateful acts in schools in recent years have sparked concern that these incidents are on the rise.

Christina Cliff is an assistant professor of political science and security studies at Franklin Pierce University. According to Cliff, whose research focuses on violent political extremism, building inclusive communities is paramount to prevention efforts. And though New Hampshire is becoming more diverse, it’s still one of the whitest states in the nation, making it a potential target for extremists looking to recruit, she said.

“Racist white supremacists see New England as a potential great home base, because of the demographics in New England primarily,” Cliff said. “It’s predominantly white up here, it’s a lot of rural space, our cities are small by comparison. So they see this as sort of, ‘Hey, there are potentially avenues here where we can talk about what we believe is correct.’ ”

The Southern Poverty Law Center identified six hate groups that were active in New Hampshire in 2020, including two neo-Nazi groups, two anti-Muslim groups, a white supremacist group and a sect of radical Catholicism. And the Anti-Defamation League tracked 56 extremist and anti-Semitic incidents in the state last year: two white supremacist events, seven anti-Semitic incidents and 48 instances in which white supremacist propaganda was distributed.

But Cliff notes that extremism is not limited to organized factions like these. Many people begin to adopt these ideologies by connecting with others individually, both in person and online, she said. And exposure to one form of extremism, such as anti-government rhetoric, can lead to exposure to other types of extremism like white supremacy, especially in online communities and forums. As mis- and disinformation continues to permeate social media and online spaces, young people can be particularly vulnerable to these movements.

“We don’t think of social isolation for teenagers or things like that … but that’s a potential driver towards extremism, because extremists offer them a sense of community and offer them a sense of feeling like they’re doing something important or powerful,” Cliff said.

Facing History and Ourselves, a Brookline, Mass.-based nonprofit organization, creates resources to help educators address hate in the classroom. In the wake of something like the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, where hate symbols including Nazi and Confederate flags were prominently displayed, the organization believes it’s crucial that teachers have an open discussion with their students about what’s happened.

That starts with asking students how they’re feeling about what they’ve seen, according to Laura Tavares, the nonprofit’s program director of organizational learning and thought leadership. The question can lead into discussions around justice, responsibility, human behavior and the ways students can use their voice, she said.

“When we don’t talk about what we see happening around us, with our neighbors being targeted with hate speech or hate crimes, we risk giving our students the impression that those things are normal or acceptable,” Tavares said.

When it comes to encouraging these discussions in classrooms, New Hampshire has made recent progress with the passage of a bill mandating Holocaust and genocide education in the state’s public schools, which Trestan described as a potential model for other states.

“That’s important, because it’s not just about the Holocaust, but it’s also looking at other examples of more contemporaneous genocides that have happened,” Peter McBride, director of the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College, said. “And the intention I think behind it is to help people understand the big cry after the second world war and the Holocaust was, ‘Never again.’ And yet, we end up seeing it again and again, so the lessons are not being learned.”

The first step, experts agree, is acknowledging that racism, hate and extremism are still very much a threat in New Hampshire. And the next step is talking about it.

“Probably everybody knows somebody that holds a line of thinking that could lead them down to extremism,” Cliff said. “… If we recognize that it’s in our towns and it’s in our cities, I think we have a better chance of addressing it, educating ourselves about it and trying to do what we can to limit its impact.”

In the aftermath

At Dover High School, the past few years have been focused on these conversations.

It started in 2018, when a video of a group of students singing a jingle about the KKK began to circulate on social media. They’d written the song, which was set to the tune of Jingle Bells, for a history assignment about the Reconstruction Era.

Their teacher, John Carver, was placed on paid administrative leave and returned to the high school the next year after undergoing racial bias training, drawing criticism about his reinstatement from racial justice activists and leaders.

“I didn’t really think a lot of students would take his side, but it caused a divide,” said Dover High senior Miraqle LaPierre of the school’s atmosphere after the video became public. “It was either you agree or you don’t agree with how the video got out and everything else.”

Since then, the district has held several community forums, created a steering committee focused on racial equity and provided additional professional development and training to faculty and staff.

For senior Prastabana Pokhel, it felt like things started to shift after she attended a forum where students of color were given the opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences with racism at the high school.

“It just felt like there was so much emotion being released, like it was held back. And then I just heard so many people’s stories, and it was just — I don’t know, like a reset, kind of,” she said. “… It felt like there was a community in Dover that you previously hadn’t felt before.”

The experience led her to join Project D.R.E.A.M., a student group that formed following the incident with the goal of making Dover High a more equitable place. The name stands for diversity, respect, educate, advocate and mission, and the club is open to everyone, though many of its members are students of color, and it has since become affiliated with the Seacoast chapter of the NAACP.

According to Superintendent William Harbron, Project D.R.E.A.M. has been essential in guiding the district’s work around equity and inclusion in the wake of the jingle video.

“The situation caused us to look really hard at ourselves and say, yes, it exists here. We’ve got to do something about it,” he said. “I think if you had to look at a positive of that situation, I think it was a catalyst, just to make us more committed and more focused on the issue.”

Students from the club have provided input to the district’s Racial Equity Vision Keepers committee, a steering committee that’s developing a strategic plan for the district’s equity efforts. They also helped to bring the Department of Justice’s SPIRIT program to Dover, a one-day workshop where more than 100 students gathered to discuss cultural issues impacting the student body.

“It started the conversation that needed to be had, because within the school, there just wasn’t any conversations happening unless you were in a club like D.R.E.A.M.,” said junior Javien James, a member of the group who was involved in organizing the SPIRIT event.

The students agreed that the district has made good progress in the last few years. But there’s still work to be done — they would like to see more teachers of color in the hallways, for example, and a more inclusive curriculum.

“I’m not saying that the teachers at Dover don’t push you to be what you want to be in life. But I’m saying if it was to come from someone who looked like me, it would most definitely mean a lot more, I guess you can say,” said Miraqle, who has been involved with Project D.R.E.A.M. since its inception, “because that person once walked in my shoes.”

The students are also pushing for more accountability. Miraqle recounted filing reports with administrators about students using racial epithets, only to not hear anything more about the issue. Several of the students also said they were frustrated that Carver kept his job but, to their knowledge, never publicly apologized for what happened in his classroom in 2018.

“I understand his official thing to his students was like, ‘I understand what happened, but no 17-year-old should be penalized for something they did when they were 17.’ That was pretty much his entire explanation,” Prastabana said. “Besides that he hasn’t said anything about the incident. It’s pretty much swept under the rug.”

Carver did not respond to a request for comment.

That hasn’t stopped Project D.R.E.A.M. from doing its work, and neither has COVID-19. They’re still meeting weekly on Zoom, and they’ve started an Instagram page where they share educational posts. But more than that, it’s become a community. Javien said the club was the first place he felt included at Dover High. For other students, it’s been the place where they found their voice.

“I think D.R.E.A.M. just kind of pushed me to actually be like, ‘OK, just because you’re a teenager doesn’t mean people aren’t going to listen to you’,” Miraqle said. “Especially if you have something to say and it’s important.”

GSNC researcher John Bassett contributed to this report.

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How are hate crimes investigated and prosecuted in New Hampshire?

Amid nationwide protests against police brutality and a rise in violence against Asian Americans during the pandemic, lawmakers in some states are turning their attention to hate-crimes laws.

From state to state, the way hate crimes are defined and prosecuted varies greatly, with some states treating these crimes as a specific offense and others codifying enhanced punishment options for them. Some states, including Arkansas, South Carolina and Wyoming, have no laws at all regarding hate crimes.

In New Hampshire, the Civil Rights Act enshrines Granite Staters’ right to be free from “actual or threatened physical force or violence” and “actual or threatened damage to or trespass on property” that is motivated by race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, sex, gender identity or disability. The statute has been in effect since 2000, and in 2017, the N.H. Attorney General’s Office launched its Civil Rights Unit to centralize enforcement of the law.

Violations of the Civil Rights Act are treated as a civil offense and can result in a restraining order or injunction against the perpetrator, which might bar them from contact with the victim or from visiting a business where the violation occurred, as well as a fine of up to $5,000 per violation. In cases where a crime has occurred, charges are brought by a county attorney who can pursue a hate-crime enhancement, which allows for an extended sentence if the defendant is found guilty.

According to spokeswoman Kate Giaquinto, the unit has litigated three Civil Rights Act enforcement actions since its creation in 2017. She did not have data on county prosecutions of hate-crime sentencing enhancements.

“The way it works in New Hampshire is it’s an enhancement on a sentence. So any criminal offense could be designated as a hate crime and have the sentencing enhancement applied to it,” Civil Rights Unit Director Sean Locke said. “It would require the prosecutor to prove that the defendant’s conduct was substantially motivated by animus toward the victim’s membership in a protected class.”

Locke noted that the First Amendment creates a “very high bar” for enforcement, meaning that instances of hurtful speech are not always treated as a civil rights violation if they don’t rise to the level of threatening violence. Another aspect of the unit’s work is public outreach and education to help communities understand the limits of the law, and the unit also works with the N.H. Human Rights Commission, which enforces state discrimination laws around employment, public accommodation, housing and education.

“An individual or group may feel targeted by a particular statement that someone makes, but that statement, because it doesn’t meet the necessary legal tests, isn’t something where we could bring enforcement action against the individual who made the statements,” Locke said.

In 2019, New Hampshire law enforcement agencies reported 16 hate crimes to the FBI, with half of those incidents motivated by race or ethnicity. The number of reports remained about level compared to the year before, when 13 hate crimes were reported and seven of them were motivated by race or ethnicity. Over the past two decades, the state saw the largest spike in hate-crime reports in 2004, 2007 and 2008, federal data show, with the total surpassing 40 incidents in each of those years.

But experts say it’s difficult to draw conclusions about the prevalence of hate and extremism in New Hampshire from these figures.

That’s partially because this annual reporting is voluntary. In 2019, 15,588 agencies submitted information about hate crimes to the FBI, while there are about 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. That figures out to about 87 percent of departments. But of those, only 14 percent, or about 2,000, reported at least one hate crime in their jurisdiction.

Lisa Jones, a research associate professor at the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, said the way hate crimes are investigated can vary greatly from agency to agency, and a community or department’s local culture can affect how much attention these cases are given.

And because the statistics don’t include incidents where no actual crime has been identified, the numbers don’t reflect more subtle forms of racism and bigotry.

“Ideally, we would want to be capturing those incidents as well to really understand hate-crimes behavior,” Jones said. “And that can be hard to do with official hate-crime statistics, because it’s a very narrow definition of what’s happening in crime.”

In addition, a legacy of mistreatment by police can make people of color and members of other protected groups hesitant to report hate incidents to law enforcement, Jones said, and police might misclassify some crimes. So when a city reports to the FBI that zero hate crimes have occurred there in a given year — as Manchester did in 2019 — it’s difficult to take the number at face value.

“When you think about, OK, it’s a city with a population of 100,000 people, and it’s a report of zero. There is a question of, was something not classified correctly? … Was there a reluctance to report?” said Robert Trestan, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League New England.

The Manchester Police Department did not return a request for comment on the 2019 data.

Peter McBride, director of the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College, notes that the law has its limitations. When bigotry and racism go unchecked, these ideas are normalized, he said, and in extreme cases such as genocide, they become enshrined in law.

That’s why the importance of communities — and especially community leaders — acknowledging and openly discussing these issues when they occur can’t be overstated.

“It’s much more of a restorative model, one that allows communities to begin to engage with those subtle, sub-legal things that are going on and how to talk about those challenges,” McBride said. “… Alongside, or I would argue underneath, the legal processes that are required and necessary and important.”

Locke encouraged any Granite Stater who believes they may have been the victim of a civil rights violation or hate crime to file a complaint with the Civil Rights Unit. Complaints can be submitted online via the Civil Rights Unit’s website, by mail, or by phone at 271-3650.

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After zoning-board denial, Keene peer-support agency finds new site
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Monadnock Peer Support has found a new location to expand its services, after Keene’s Zoning Board of Adjustment denied approval for a different property in November.

Executive Director Christine Allen said the organization, now based on Beaver Street in Keene, will move to 32 Washington St. — which currently houses one of Monadnock Family Services’ sites — in the coming months.

“What is so incredible is the community support, the collaboration with other area agencies and other folks in the community understanding what intentional peer support is, and knowing its value and knowing how important our program is for the success and well-being of the community,” Allen said.

Monadnock Peer Support is a member-run agency that offers free peer-support groups, one-on-one peer support, a youth peer-support program and a 24/7 peer-crisis respite program for people with conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or trauma-related disorders.

The agency helps more than 450 Granite Staters annually, according to Allen.

It has outgrown its current facility and has been on the hunt for a new, larger building to offer more programming.

Last fall, Monadnock Peer Support hoped to move into the former Woodward assisted-living home at 194-202 Court St. The Woodward merged with Prospect Place in 2016, and the new entity opened Hillside Village on Wyman Road in 2019.

However, Monadnock Peer Support needed approval from the city’s zoning board because group homes are allowed only in a medium-density district, like that part of Court Street, by special exemption.

The zoning board denied this request because members felt the proposal failed to meet one of the criteria for an exemption — that it wouldn’t lower nearby property values.

Shortly after this news, Monadnock Family Services — a community mental health center with locations in Keene and Peterborough — offered the Washington Street site to Monadnock Peer Support, according to Executive Director Phil Wyzik.

The building is currently occupied by Monadnock Family Services’ case management team for adults, Wyzik said, and those employees will move to one of its two other facilities in Keene.

The services on Washington Street are mostly remote still because of the pandemic, so it won’t be a huge shift, according to Wyzik.

“We’re happy that we were able to help MPS in the next step in their growth,” Wyzik said in an email. “We’ve always had a great partnership and I look forward to continuing that in the years ahead.”

Monadnock Peer Support hasn’t closed on the Washington Street property yet, but Allen said it should be able to soon.

The new space — which does not require zoning board approval for Monadnock Peer Support’s use — will need to be renovated before the organization can move in to accommodate its programs, according to Allen. While the space is the same size as the one on Beaver Street, the new layout is quite different.

She said she anticipates this work will take about five months, and once it’s complete, the agency plans to move right in with no lapse in services.

And as the organization had hoped, the layout of the new location will allow Monadnock Peer Support to expand its peer-respite program, and also offer new services.

The free, voluntary respite program offers an alternative to going to a psychiatric hospital for people 18 and older in the midst of a mental health crisis.

New Hampshire residents leaving a psychiatric hospital are also able to stay in the program to help ease their transition back into the community.

Program participants have 24/7 access to a peer-support worker, and can stay in the facility for up to a week. They are able to come and go as they please, whether it be to report to work or see friends.

The agency will also continue its Step Up, Step Down program — a peer-respite program that allows people to stay for up to 90 days. This program offers more structure, support and accountability than the agency’s other respite service, Allen said.

Between the two, there will be eight rooms available, according to Allen, compared to five at Monadnock Peer Support’s current location.

The agency also hopes to add services for people with eating disorders, as well as cooking classes for general nutrition guidance.

In the Monadnock Region, there are limited services focused on recovery from eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia or compulsive overeating.

“We’ll be putting in a commercial kitchen so that we can have cooking classes and family-style meals,” Allen said. “... There are so many folks that are emotional eaters, whether they eat or don’t eat, so we need to put some structure around how feeding your body is so important.”

The agency also hopes to use one of the large rooms in the new space to add trauma yoga and meditation programming.

“We are bringing health and wellness full circle so we can incorporate mind, body and soul into trauma healing,” she said.

Once Monadnock Peer Support relocates, the Beaver Street building will hopefully be turned into a two-family home, which was its original purpose, according to Allen. That proposal will go before the city’s zoning board, and a potential buyer is already interested in acquiring the property if it’s approved, she said.

Until the move, Monadnock Peer Support is continuing its services at Beaver Street, and has recently started offering in-person services again after going remote amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agency is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for those who wish to stop by. By May 1, Allen added, the facility will be open for in-person services four days a week.

Group sessions can hold only six people because of the pandemic, Allen said, so those are on a first-come, first-served basis. Virtual services will also continue to be offered.

And as Monadnock Peer Support looks toward its next chapter, Allen emphasized the importance of its work.

“The more we can talk about mental health, the more we can acknowledge it’s real, the more we can get rid of that stigma,” she said, “the better we’ll be as a whole.”