After synagogue shooting, Nessel reiterates need for hate crimes unit

People attend a prayer and candlelight vigil at Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church on April 27, 2019 in Poway, California. A gunman opened fire at the Congregation Chabad synagogue on the last day of Passover leaving one person dead and three others injured. The suspect is in custody.| David McNew/Getty Images

Attorney General Dana Nessel told the Advance on Sunday that another synagogue shooting over the weekend shows the need for the new hate crimes unit she has opened.

Dana Nessel, March 22, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

Hate crimes have risen in Michigan by 30 percent between 2016 and 2017, per FBI statistics. The FBI reports hate crimes have increased for three straight years across the country.

On the last day of Passover, a gunman who reportedly wrote an anti-Semitic manifesto opened fire with an assault rifle in the Chabad of Poway synagogue outside San Diego.

A 60-year-old woman was killed and three others were injured on Saturday. The Washington Post reported that “a rabbi suffered gunshot wounds to his hands and underwent surgery, while a 34-year-old man and child were hit by bullet shrapnel.”

The gunman also allegedly posted anti-Muslim screeds online. The shooting came six months after the Tree of Life synagogue massacre by another gunman who had violent anti-Semitic views. Eleven people were killed there. The Pittsburgh temple held a vigil on Saturday.

Nessel, who is Jewish, told the Advance in an interview in March that she attended a vigil at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield for the Tree of Life shooting.

Tree of Life Synagogue memorials, October 2018 | Wikimedia Commons

“There was palpable fear amongst the Jewish community. And I am a member of the Jewish community and I can’t remember a time in recent history where there was that concern, where people really looked both ways before they walked into temple — and, in some cases, I think maybe avoided going altogether,” she said. “Daily, you’d hear about bomb threats at the Jewish Community Center and things of that nature.”

Nessel wrote on Facebook Saturday night about the shooting and said “instead of posting my usual rant of outrage and despair” she decided to put up the video of her testimony before the state Senate Oversight Committee last week when she was grilled about the  new hate crimes unit. Republicans have criticized the unit.

She expanded on that with the Advance.

“I was disturbed and greatly saddened that the focus of the questioning by the Republicans was exclusively why we needed a hate crimes unit, why in the world we had a hate crimes statute, and how to best protect those who promulgate hate speech or belong to hate groups,” she said on Sunday. “Not one of the Republicans’ statements or questions belied any sympathy or concern for the very real victims of hate crimes.”

Nessel appeared before the committee along with Sunita Amani, the assistant attorney general in charge of the unit. In an unusual move, state Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake), who’s not a member of the committee, joined in the questioning.

Elie Wiesel, Wikimedia Commons

“I remain committed to the belief that, as the top law enforcement official in Michigan, and indeed everyone in elected office, has an obligation to ensure that all those who live here feel safe, protected, and worthy of legal safeguards. I will not be deterred in this effort,” Nessel wrote on Facebook.

She ended with a quote from Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel:

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

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Susan J. Demas is an 18-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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