Getting Answers: hate incidents on the rise
SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - The number of hate crimes and hate incidents is growing in the United States and New England. Local leaders are expressing concerns about incidents of hatred in western Massachusetts.
Rev. Terrlyn Curry Avery remembers the waves of emotion she felt on December 28, 2020 when a fire severely damaged her church in Springfield: the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Presbyterian Church.
“It was devastating because what you do is you wonder for some people what is so unpleasant about me that you need to hate me so much to burn a church down? It is far too long that people have looked at us and tried to say we are less than. That is a painful process, but I won’t let it stop me or the people at this church,” Curry Avery explained.
Dushko Vulchev, 45, of Houlton, ME is facing federal hate crime charges for attempting to burn down the church. He was indicted by a federal grand jury in February and arraigned in April. According to court documents, during a search of Vulchev’s vehicle and other searches, investigators found “images demonstrating racial animus toward black people.”
Rev. Curry Avery is concerned about such incidents.
“It is a disheartening and very painful as a person of color. We have had a surge of hate crimes and a surge of racist incidents because I think we are living in a time where we are told it is okay to be as blatant as you want to be with hate crimes,” Curry Avery added.
The Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security reported 385 reports of incidents of hate crime in 2020, an increase from 376 in 2019. In 2021, the Anti-Defamation League reported that there were 2,717 antisemitic incidents in the United States, a 34 percent increase. In New England, the number of antisemtic incidents jumped to 42 percent in 2021.
According to the ADL heat map detailing extremist and antisemitic incidents, there were 896 hate incidents in the Bay State from 2020 to 2022. In western Massachusetts, from December 2020 to April 2021, the ADL reported several incidents including two incidents of antisemitic vandalism in Amherst and Northampton.
In February 2022, John Rathbun, 37, was sentenced to five years in prison and three years of supervised release for placing a lit firebomb at Jewish Geriatric Services Lifecare in Longmeadow.
“It is a concern that so many people, a high percentage of the people who reside across New England, somehow, some type of hate has impacted their daily life in the last couple weeks,” said Robert Trestan, regional director for ADL New England.
Trestan told Western Mass News that he has concerns about the increase in hate incidents and the distribution of white supremacist propaganda. This is the type of concern that keeps him up at night.
“There is always a danger when this kind of vitriol starts to become mainstream that it will incite someone to commit one of those acts,” Trestan noted.
Bishop Talbert Swan, president of the Springfield NAACP who was recently appointed to the state’s task force on hate crimes, said hate crimes are underreported.
He said he has received racially motivated threats and that such incidents are increasing locally.
“I have had my church threatened to be burned down…I literally have the personal cell phone email address of an FBI agent who, every month, I forward to him dozens of death threats and racist telephone calls and emails in boxes that come to me on a weekly basis,” Swan explained.
Swan described a country he said is polarized by race and that we must address racism.
“The first thing we can to do is be honest about it and candid about it. We have to stop trying to sweep it under the rug and pretend that is better than it is,” Swan said.
Curry Avery, who also hosts a radio show on dismantling racism, said this is a community issue.
“I think one of the ways we address it is as a community. Everyone needs to be involved in it. This is not a Black or Latino issue. This is an issue for everybody,” Curry Avery said.
Curry Avery said she hopes to build a new church and open it in December 2023, but said funding remains a concern.
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