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State and federal law enforcement talk hate crimes following bomb threat to JCC

Courtesy of the Siegel JCC

State and federal law enforcement officials spoke Wednesday night at the Siegel Jewish Community Center in Talleyville — which was among multiple Jewish community centers in several states reportedly targeted by emailed bomb threats Sunday.

The forum on hate crimes was organized in response to what officials see as growing anti-Semitism in the U.S.


Assistant U.S. Attorney Jamie McCall addressed challenges of prosecuting hate crimes at the federal level. 

McCall is currently prosecuting a federal case against two alleged members of the white supremacist group The Base who planned violence at the Richmond gun-rights rally while living in Newark. They were chargedin the District of Delaware on weapons and immigration charges. 

“In the federal criminal code there are no specific domestic terrorism statutes,” he said. “So what prosecutors have to do is be creative and flexible, look at the conduct that’s at issue, and see if other criminal statutes apply. So typically we’re going to look at gun offenses, statutes that deal with civil disobediences and disturbances in that regard, the federal riot statute.”

McCall adds sometimes federal authorities need local partners to bring state charges, like conspiracy to commit murder, against potential terrorists to prevent them from committing violence. 


He says there is a balance to be struck between making an arrest early and allowing an ongoing criminal investigation to play out. 


“The tension is letting the conduct unfold and balancing the other equities that are in place, most importantly public safety,” he said. “What you’re trying to do is protect the public and get the best charges.”

Siegel Jewish Community Center CEO Ivy Harlev says her organization is grateful for its relationship with law enforcement. 

“I think [Wednesday’s forum] was very meaningful because it shows that we have ... the public service people that really care about the community," she said. "They want to make sure that we’re a part of the community and that we know that they care about us." 

Harlev notes the JCC’s security partners concluded there was no known credible threat behind Sunday’s concerning emailed bomb threat. 

“We need to just continue to build communities across different communities in Wilmington, in Delaware, and make sure that we’re a friendly environment for people so that we can get to know each other from different cultures.”

State Attorney General Kathy Jennings said at Wednesday’s event that her office plans to advocate for expansion of the state hate crime statute.

She noted the state’s hate crime law has expanded over the years to include protections on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. 

“But we also believe there are crimes committed that don’t fall within the traditional hate crime statute that should be looped into what is a hate crime,” she said. “For example, the desecration of an institution for the purpose of hate. Painting swastikas on a synagogue, for example. That is a crime, it’s criminal mischief most certainly, but it ought to be swept under the hate crime law. ”

Jennings notes Wednesday’s forum was not planned in response to Sunday’s threat. 


“We had intended to do this in any event because of the rise in hate crimes— internationally, nationally and here in Delaware,” she said. “I think people are justifiably frightened and they want to know where to turn, and we thought it was really important for them to know what the state and federal government can offer in terms of help.”


She says citizens should report anything concerning to law enforcement.


“The citizens of Delaware are our best eyes and ears. So we can be more effective when citizens speak up, when residents tell us that, hey I’m a little concerned because someone in our neighborhood has been doing the following or saying the following,” she said. “It may be that there’s nothing actionable. It may be that there’s no there there, but if there is something there, you have done a tremendous service to all of us. You have kept us safe.”

“In the case of The Base, because of the investigation that was conducted, lives were saved,” she added. 

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), there were a total of 16 hate crimes in Delaware in 2018.

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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