Last week, the Hilton Central School District was the target of two email bomb threats reportedly because of an LGBTQ book at the Hilton High School library.
Rochester-area state lawmakers Harry Bronson, Sarah Clark, Demond Meeks, Jen Lunsford, Josh Jensen, Jeremy Cooney and Samra Brouk publicly decried the initial threat as “an act of terrorism.”
“The perpetrators of this cowardly act were motivated by hatred and fear of LGBTQ content offered to students who, throughout history, have been silenced and marginalized by exactly this kind of bullying. This vile and hateful act against our children will not go unpunished,” their statement reads.
On Sunday, Superintendent Casey Kosiorek notified the Hilton community that “the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office determined that Wednesday and Friday’s email threats continue to have no credibility.” Nonetheless, the district has contracted for “additional professional security presence outside normal school hours” and taken other additional internal security measures “to secure our schools.”
The Hilton incidents came shortly after a supplement report released by the FBI earlier this month. The report updates the number of reported hate crimes between 2020 and 2021 and shows that such crimes nationwide rose to their highest levels ever since the government began tracking this data in the 1990s. Incidents increased by nearly 50 percent to 10,840 involving 12,822 victims across the country.
Of those incidents, 64 percent were targeted because of the offenders’ race/ethnicity/ancestry bias, followed by 15 percent and 14 percent because of the offenders’ sexual orientation and religious bias, respectively. Hate crimes because of an offenders’ gender identity bias made up 337 incidents, or 3 percent of the total.
However, the data might obscure the danger faced by gender non-conforming people. A recent study from the Williams Institute at University of California, Los Angeles found that transgender people were four times as likely to be victims of a violent crime, and also faced higher rates of property victimization, compared to cisgender people.
While the updated version of the FBI report has yet to be released filtered along geographic lines, available data suggests that Rochester bucks the national trend. In 2021, the area had only eight reported hate crime incidents, compared with a high of 25 recorded in 2001 and 2008. The Rochester Police Department, which typically handles most of these cases, reported no hate crimes in 2021.
Hate crimes in general tend to be underreported. Finding enough evidence to prove an act was motivated by a bias against a person’s race, religion, sexual orientation or other signifier can be difficult.
Activists point to the fact that the FBI depends on voluntary participation with public safety agencies. While the report is much improved with 64 percent coverage nationwide in 2021 (compared with 17 percent participation in 2000), there are many potential holes in the data.
Compared with nationwide reporting, Monroe County coverage is robust. Thirteen agencies, including the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, the Rochester Police Department, the Monroe County State Police, nine village and town police departments, and the SUNY Brockport Public Safety office all participate by sending data to the annual report.
Among the participating departments in Monroe County, the village of Fairport and Irondequoit town police reported zero hate crimes from 2000 to 2021. Webster, Gates, and Ogden town police and the Monroe County State Police reported only one hate crime each in that same time span.
Regardless of numbers, endangered communities continue to repeat the same message: violence motivated by hate is getting worse.
Last summer, 10 people in a Black Buffalo neighborhood died at the hands of a mass shooter. The FBI later said the shooter named Rochester as a potential target. Organizations such as Stop Asian Hate and Anti-Defamation League have also observed increased violence against Asian and Jewish people.
Rabbi Peter Stein of Temple B’rith Kodesh says potential danger now needs to be a consideration for Jewish worship events. The Jewish Community Federation of Greater Rochester hired a former chief of police as its director of security in 2019. Terrorist acts at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018 and Colleyville synagogue in Texas in 2022 were made all the more relevant as he had family and colleague connections with the people there.
“It’s important not to become overwhelmed by the fear,” Stein said in an interview last year. “Without ignoring the bad things, we need to make sure to focus on the good things.”
For Stein, those good things include the support and community that comes to light in the face of hate.
“Anytime (there’s an antisemitic event), I always get a phone call of support from our friends in the Muslim faith,” Stein said. “We have a strong foundation of interfaith leaders. I believe Rochester is a place where we support each other.”
The lawmakers’ statement in light of the Hilton incidents echoes similar support: “We stand strong with the Hilton community and the broader LGBTQ community. We see you, we love you, and we will not let anyone treat you with anything less than the dignity and respect you deserve.”
Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].