Hate speech not tolerated in Shelton

When it comes to hate speech and spreading negativity, the city of Shelton doesn’t tolerate it.

Nearly 80 residents gathered at the Plumb Memorial Library Monday night to listen in on and participate in a panel discussion regarding hate speech, and how it is addressed by local community leaders.

The school, church, and law enforcement

The event was organized by the Democratic Town Committee, and the panel featured the Rev. Lucille L. Fritz of the Huntington Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Chris Clouet, and interim police Chief Shawn Sequeira. The discussion was moderated by the director of the Anti-Defamation League, Steve Ginsburg.

To begin the conversation, Ginsburg explained that hate speech is speech that harms or poses a threat to an entire group of people, whether that group be identified by race, religion or sexual orientation. Ginsburg then asked each panel speaker how they deal with hate speech when it’s reported to them.

“It’s just not tolerated,” said Sequeira, who said law enforcement duties include protecting people’s civil rights.

Whether it’s reported in school or to law enforcement, Clouet and Sequeira agreed that an investigation to verify the details of a report is always necessary.

Although Clouet said he hasn’t encountered much hate speech in Shelton, he said he takes the matter very seriously.

“In every school we have that secular prayer that ends with ‘With liberty and justice for all.’ I’m sure most of you are familiar with it,” said Clouet. “We take that seriously, liberty and justice for all.”

Clouet said his staff within the Shelton schools looks to teach students the importance of equality, but not only through academic lessons.

“In addition to classes, the school staff teaches the students how to work with and get along with each other, whether it’s through band, sports or academics,” said Clouet.

Fritz said one key theme she preaches to people of all ages is “Do unto others as you want done to you.”

Fritz said when people fail to treat others as they want to be treated, that is where hate speech occurs.

Times have changed

The panel agreed that a lot of the inappropriate speech is a reflection of what students or kids hear at home, and hate speech occurs with people of all ages.

One resident who attended the forum said he recalls attending school in Shelton 30 years ago and sees positive changes among students and how they treat each other. He said he thinks they are more accepting now and understanding of people coming from different backgrounds and practicing different religions.

Ginsburg said that as times have changed, the need for people to stand up and be allies when they see someone being a victim of hate speech is that much more important.

Sequeira said hate and bias crimes in the city have gone down since 2012.

“The numbers over the last eight years have gone down,” said Sequeira. “Hate and bias crime for the last eight years have included one each year. … School bullying cases, in 2012 there were six, there were eight cases in 2013, and only five reported in 2014.”

Each one, teach one

Although the decreasing numbers within the city may not suggest a need, Ginsburg said there’s always a need to continue to educate people in order to prevent hate speech or other harmful actions that target one group.

“If you encounter someone who is saying things that could be considered hate speech, respond with the mind-set that the person just doesn’t understand, because you have a better chance at continuing that relationship to help change their mind,” Ginsburg said.

Sequeira said he and his staff are constantly undergoing training on hate and bias crime to assure they know the proper way to handle situations.

Jimmy Tickey of the Shelton Democrats said he was pleased with the conversation that took place during the forum.

“We were so pleased to have a standing room of about 75 people who believed — like us —  we should be building bridges, not walls between us,” said Tickey. “This conversation took an important look at the role community organizations and citizens play in standing together against hate; we are all stronger together.”

The dates for the next three community discussions have not been decided. To learn more, visit Facebook.com/SheltonDemocrats or Twitter.com/SheltonDems.