Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden announced he will add two new civil rights prosecutors to help handle hate crime cases due to recent hate-based incidents and over concerns of increased extremist activity around upcoming national elections, according to a statement.
Boston, and the rest of the state, have become target destinations for white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups. Hayden said in a phone interview Sunday.
Those groups “are inherently designed to invoke fear and intimidation and violence,” he said.
“The right to freedom of assembly and the right to peacefully exercise their right to free speech are clearly to be safeguarded and protected,” Hayden said. “We want to always... be concerned when peaceful protest or the right to exercise free speech or assembly crosses that line.”
Hayden was appointed by Governor Charlie Baker in January to complete US Attorney Rachael Rollins’s term as Suffolk district attorney. He is running to fill the position full term and faces Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo in the September Democratic primary election.
Hayden’s plan will add two more prosecutors to the office’s Civil Rights/High-Risk Victims Unit, which handles civil rights and hate crime cases, along with crimes against elders and people with disabilities.
One of the two new prosecutors will handle civil rights cases in superior court, and the other will be assigned to the district and municipal courts.
The addition will expand the unit to a total of four prosecutors, according to Hayden’s office.
“We’re going to have a coordinated effort ... to make sure we’re appropriately responding to any civil rights cases or violations that come up,” Hayden said in the interview.
Hayden pointed to several hate incidents reported this month, including white supremacist propaganda left at homes in Chatham, Danvers, Hamilton, and Ipswich. In Boston’s Hyde Park, homophobic graffiti was scrawled at the site of a planned LGBTQ-friendly senior housing facility.
On Sunday, Rollins announced the launching of a hotline to report neo-Nazi activity following a series of white supremacist demonstrations in Boston.
The latest, on Saturday, included about 20 members of a neo-Nazi group that chanted anti-LGBTQ slogans at participants of a children’s drag queen story hour in Jamaica Plain. Police said they arrested the group’s founder, Christopher R. Hood Jr., 23, of Pepperell, as well as two counter-demonstrators.
Hood pleaded not guilty Monday to a charge of affray, and criminal charges were dropped against the two people who challenged the neo-Nazis.
Hayden said he believes Massachusetts is a focus for hate groups because of its diversity and tolerance.
“I would guess that it’s in part because they know what a richly diverse and accepting community that we are, and where we all have a love and respect for one another,” Hayden said. “So therefore, it may be an easy place to find easy targets.”
Hayden said he is also concerned with the impact of national issues on Massachusetts, such as the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol, controversial Supreme Court decisions, and the possibility of “societal strife” over the November congressional election and the presidential election in 2024.
National leaders, regardless of party, he said, must condemn hate incidents and white supremacist activity.
Local leaders and communities “must make clear in peaceful terms their rejection of these actions and beliefs,” he said.
And people “whose actions violate free speech protections must be held accountable by police and prosecutors.”
John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com.