U.S. Attorney highlights national hate crime trends in Petoskey presentation

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Mark Totten presented a "United Against Hate" program in Petoskey on June 10.
U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Mark Totten presented a "United Against Hate" program in Petoskey on June 10.

PETOSKEY — Mark Totten, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, made a stop in Petoskey this week to present a “United Against Hate” program.

The presentation took place on June 10 at the Carnegie Building, in partnership with Northern Michigan Against Hate and the Petoskey District Library.

Northern Michigan Against Hate is a local grassroots organization of civic groups, churches, families and indviduals dedicated to combating hate of all kinds. Their mission is to fight hatred by raising public awareness and empowering kindness with educational and community-based programs and events. The group is organized and covered by the local Kulanu chapter of Temple B’nai Israel, and is non-political and non-denominational. Participation is open to all.

“We’ve been doing this for a couple of years where we’ve been bringing programming to just help people learn a little bit about what it is to see antisemitism, to see bigotry and hate and what do you do about it?” said Val Meyerson, director of the Petskey District Library and member of the Kulanu chapter. “Just to make it an open conversation to help our community be a safer place for everyone.”

Totten provided information about what U.S. Attorney offices do and some of their recent cases, like the prosecution of a member of a white supremacist group for defacing Temple Jacob, a historic synagogue in Hancock. He also noted their work in stemming the flow of illegal drugs and the increasing prevalence of deaths related to gun violence.

The main point of the evening’s presentation, however, was to provide information on hate crimes.

“I want to help us better understand the federal protections against hate crimes and what to do if you experience a hate crime or hate incident or become aware of one. What do you do? I want to answer that question by the end of the night,” Totten said.

Totten added that he also wanted to “better understand the civil rights landscape in this community.”

“I really like to get out, I probably spend about 40 percent of my time outside the office on the road,” he said. “It’s really important that I hear from our communities and understand what some of the challenges are.”

More: United Against Hate program set for June 10 in Petoskey

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The program included recent statistics on hate crimes in the U.S. and how people can report incidents. Totten also answered questions from the audience about his work.

“One of our primary missions in the Department of Justice is to protect civil rights. It’s actually the reason the Department of Justice first came into existence was to take on hate and discrimination, particularly what was happening across the south at the end of the Civil War,” Totten told the News-Review.

“It’s still a really important part of what we do. Honestly, I don’t know that a lot of people think of us, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, as a place they might call when they experience a hate incident or they become aware of one and I want to try to change that. I want people to know that we care about these issues, that there are strong federal laws that can, in the right circumstances, protect the community … and I want them to feel comfortable to come talk to us.”

One audience member asked about how they can turn the tide in the rising number of hate crimes happening across the country. Totten said that a community standing united together against such acts is a strong deterrent.

More: ‘No room for hate’: Petoskey takes part in third annual Walk Against Hate

Meyerson said they experienced similar support at Temple B’nai Israel after the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and again after the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel.

“It really does make a difference where maybe the protected class feels more comfortable in the community,” she said. “Just knowing, for us, that the community is supportive of us and the temple makes us feel better and makes us feel more comfortable practicing our faith. I think opening the conversation in a public forum like this, it’s safe for people for listen and hear and get good information that they can use.”

Northern Michigan Against Hate will host its annual Walk Against Hate on Sept. 29, starting in Pennsylvania Park in Petoskey.

For more information on how to report a hate crime, visit justice.gov/hatecrimes/report-a-hate-crime.

— Contact Jillian Fellows at jfellows@petoskeynews.com.

This article originally appeared on The Petoskey News-Review: U.S. Attorney Totten highlights national hate crime trends in Petoskey presentation