By Jean Reynolds
Your police training will include the topic of hate crimes, including those motivated by anti-Semitism (a term that refers to prejudice against members of the Jewish faith). Anti-Semitic acts violate a 1968 federal statute against hate crimes that made it illegal to "by force or by threat of force, injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone…by reason of their race, color, religion, or national origin."
Anti-Semitism has a long history throughout the world, with attacks on Jews dating back more than a thousand years. Religion is only one element in anti-Semitism: at various times attacks have been motivated by social, economic, and political factors. The most famous recent example of anti-Semitism was the Holocaust that caused the death of six million European Jews. In the US, famous anti-Semites have included aviator Charles Lindbergh, industrialist Henry Ford, and chess expert Bobby Fischer.
According to the FBI, religion was the second largest category of hate crimes in 2017 (behind racial intolerance, the largest category). Fifty-eight percent of the religious targets were Jews, and anti-Semitic crimes included vandalism, arson, assaults, intimidation, burglaries, and thefts. Hate crimes against Jews increased by more than a third over the previous year.
Police officers need to be aware that not every crime against a Jewish person or institution qualifies as a hate crime. The federal state requires convincing evidence that religious bias was the motivation. Police officers have a critical role here because often they provide the evidence that determines how the crime will be prosecuted.
If you investigate a crime and suspect that it was motivated by anti-Semitism, make sure you document any incriminating evidence you find. You should record any anti-Semitic statements made by the suspect, and you should document (with pictures, if possible) anti-Semitic slogans and symbols (such as a Nazi flag) on the suspect’s clothing.
If you find anti-Semitic symbols and printed materials during a legal search of a vehicle or home, be sure to document what you found—that evidence might be helpful in building a hate-crime case. If you’re investigating a property crime, be sure to take pictures of any anti-Semitic graffiti.
You should remind yourself often that as a police officer, you’re an important role model for the citizens you serve. It’s important not to slip into offensive behavior yourself. Even a casual remark or offhand joke can convey the message that prejudice is acceptable because “everyone’s doing it.”