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Baker relaunches task force to combat hate crimes

By Globe Staff 

Governor Charlie Baker, responding to a rash of racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant incidents, on Monday relaunched a state hate-crimes task force that was disbanded 14 years ago under Governor Mitt Romney.

At a brief ceremony in his office, Baker signed an executive order reestablishing the Governor’s Task Force on Hate Crimes and swore in 16 members of the panel, a diverse group that includes law enforcement officials, religious leaders, and advocates of various racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds.

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The panel will meet four times a year and advise the governor on ways to combat hate crimes to “ensure we are making Massachusetts as safe as we possibly can,” Baker told the assembled group. The governor did not take any questions from reporters.

The naming of the task force comes as hate groups nationwide have been emboldened by the election of President Trump.

Civil rights groups have documented hundreds of incidents of anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-gay, and other bias incidents, including bullying, harassment, violence, and vandalism.

Last week, the Anti-Defamation League released new data that showed that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in New England has risen significantly in 2017, compared to 2016.

The group reported that, from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, there were 132 anti-Semitic episodes in the six New England states, including school incidents and threats made against Jewish institutions.

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That represents a 32 percent increase over the same period in 2016 and exceeds last year’s total, the league said. Massachusetts saw 117 of the 132 incidents, a 44 percent increase from last year.

Robert O. Trestan, New England regional director of the ADL, who was named a member of the task force, said he hopes the panel will focus on increased hate-crimes reporting, training for law enforcement officials, and education and awareness for the broader public.

“This is a significant step, and it puts us on a pathway to being creative and proactive about an issue that affects everyone,” Trestan said.

Governor William F. Weld first created the task force in 1991 to help the state collect hate-crime data from local police departments, as required by a 1990 law enacted by the Legislature. The most recent data showed that the state experienced 424 hate crimes in 2015, including 144 episodes of assault or aggravated assault.

The task force was dissolved in 2003 after Romney vetoed $100,000 in state aid for the panel, according to Don Gorton, who was the group’s cochairman from 1991 until that year.

For the dozen years the task force existed, Gorton said, the group encouraged hate-crimes reporting by police, conducted training for law enforcement agencies, and organized community organizations to fight bias and intolerance.

From 1994 to 1996, the task force also led a successful legislative effort to expand the scope of state hate crimes law and increase penalties for those who commit hate crimes, Baker’s office said.

Gorton said he has been encouraging Baker to restart the task force since he took office in 2015, and he is glad the governor is acting now.

“I think it’s as needed as it has ever been,” said Gorton, who is head of the Anti-Violence Project of Massachusetts, a group that combats violence against LGBTQ people.

Daniel Bennett, Baker’s secretary of public safety and security, and Josh Kraft, the chief executive and president of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston, will serve as cochairs of the panel.

Kraft, a son of Patriots owner Robert K. Kraft, is also president of the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation.

Other task force members include Yusufi S. Vali, executive director of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center; Nan M. Sauer, cochairwoman of the Massachusetts LGBTQ Bar Association; Israul Marrero of the Boston Police Department; and Anthony Gulluni, Hampden County district attorney.


Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.
com

Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson