By Ben Tinsley
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson’s observations on local and national hate crimes dominated a recent town hall Zoom meeting revolving around safety, security and antisemitism.
The roughly one-hour town hall was held on Zoom Aug. 31, and hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation (JCRC) and the Federation’s Community Security Initiative (CSI). Cindy Sweet Moskowitz, chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Sherry Goldberg, chair of the CSI and Cheryl Drazin, vice president of the Central Division of the Anti-Defamation League moderated the evening. Panelists were Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, Dallas Executive Assistant Police Chief Albert Martinez, Plano Mayor John B. Muns, Plano Police Chief Ed Drain, CSI Director Bill Humphrey, Dallas City Council Member Cara Mendelsohn (District 12) and Dallas City Council Member Jaynie Schultz (District 11). More than 400 people watched the town hall on Zoom.
Moskowitz described Johnson as a friend of the Jewish community. He summed up the impact of hate crimes nationally and in Dallas. Hate crimes increased nationally by 12% in 2020 according to the FBI. In Dallas, that number was 38%, according to the Dallas Police Department.
“It’s like cancer,” he said. “There is no acceptable amount of cancer. You detect cancer in your body you want to remove all of it. You can’t allow it to spread, not even a little bit.”
The Dallas mayor also took the opportunity to announce formation of the first mayor’s anti-hate advisory commission, he said. “This is a group that won’t go away after it resolves one issue.”
The Dallas mayor said this new group, when completely formed, will respond to problems swiftly and decisively, and find answers the community needs to hear. This will be in service of creating a “culture of understanding “ in the city.
Martinez confirmed the “38%” hate crime figure quoted by the mayor, saying they were directed more toward Asians and the LGBTQ community than Jews.
After their comments, Goldberg took the mic to engage the Plano panelists.
The Plano police chief noted that his city recorded three hate crimes, none against Jews.
Mayor Muns said he’s interested in keeping the numbers low by having meaningful dialogue with Plano residents. He said Plano is planning a “listening tour” this winter to learn more about the issues going on in the community.
“The main thing we’re hoping for is to make sure that our residents have an opportunity to tell us areas that we may not think is a concern to us, as city leaders, but to them, they see it as an issue. And we want to make sure that if that is a problem, then if there’s an area that we can help resolve those areas.” Muns said.
Before moderationg her portion of the evening, Drazin put into context what the ADL is seeing in terms of an uptick of antisemitism national and what that means for Texas and North Texas in particular. In 2020 Texas had 40 plus antisemitic cases putting it on par with New York, Florida and California which have much larger Jewish populations. North Texas and Oklahoma saw 25 antisemitic incidents in 2020. Drazin pointed out that while that might not seem like a huge number, it is a 127% increase from 2019.
These cases represented more vandalism than harassment which is always a concern since vandalism is a gateway to assault Drazin explained. She also said that ADL is reporting a significant increase in antisemitic activities in May 2021 compared to the same time in 2020, which can be attributed to the conflict between Israel and Gaza.
Bill Humphrey, Community Security Initiative director, said planning ahead to deal with antisemitic crime rather than waiting for something to happen is always the best play,
“Safety and security has to be paramount. It has to be number one, in our planning and our thinking and everything that we do,” he said. He shared that CSI has conducted almost 50 site assessments for Jewish organizations, schools and synagogues to shore up security and make it a more difficult target for those who may intend harm.
“We want to make sure their site is complete in what we call target hardening, that they have wired up as many layers of security as possible for their organization, their site, their campus, to make sure they’re completely safe,” he said.
CSI also conducts education and training for Jewish organizations so constituents are prepared for various threatening scenarios. It also has an emergency communication platform to advise the Jewish community in the event of an emergency.
He stressed that as partners together, anyone who has a concern should make sure to voice that concern to him, the police or the ADL.
“”If you see something, say something,” Humphrey said.
Dallas City Council Member Cara Mendelsohn also encouraged participants to get involved with their communities whether with a nonprofit or civic commission.
“You need to get outside the Jewish community and be an ambassador for the Jewish culture.” she said.
Jaynie Schultz, Dallas City Council member, said one of the best things people can do to fight hate crimes at the source is get involved in their neighborhood associations. “They will protect you and have your back,” she said.
The hosts of the town hall also urged people to stay involved.
Moskowitz said the JCRC, the public affairs arm of the Jewish Federation and a convener in the Jewish community, maintains and strengthens relationships with civic leaders in order to advocate for and prioritize concerns of the Jewish community, including countering antisemitism.
“In collaboration with communal partners, the community Town Hall program demonstrated this important work,” she said.
Goldberg said that as the Chair of The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Community Security Initiative, she fully understands and honors the 24/7 promise and commitment to their partners in the Jewish community.
“Each day, we consistently have our eyes and ears open, with the help of the Dallas Police Department and the FBI to ensure the safety of our vulnerable 90 congregations, schools and agencies,” Goldberg said. “In this current challenging climate, we are faced with a significant rise in antisemitism which needs to be watched and addressed in every possible way.”
For information about the JCRC, email firstname.lastname@example.org or 214-615-5293. For security assistance or information, contact Bill Humphrey, email@example.com or 214-843-4333.