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Hate Crimes Surged By 17 Percent Over The Last Year, Says FBI


A man shouting, Heil Hitler, Heil Trump at a performance of "Fiddler On The Roof" in Baltimore. A man arrested after promising the synagogue shooting was a dry run for things to come. The FBI says hate crimes surged by 17 percent this year, driven by racial and anti-Semitic attacks.

It's happening everywhere and increasingly in schools. We're going to hear now from two educators in Reading, Mass., where police have been investigating 34 incidents throughout the town since May of last year. Among them, racist graffiti scrawled in three local schools. Kathleen Boynton is the principal of Reading Memorial High School, and John Doherty is the school district superintendent. Welcome to you both.

KATHLEEN BOYNTON: Thank you very much, Lulu.

JOHN DOHERTY: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Kathleen, I'm going to start with you. When we say racist graffiti, tell me what that means.

BOYNTON: So there were incidents of graffiti targeting our African-American population, as well as our LGBTQ population and our Jewish population.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And these sort of popped up all over the school. Did it seem like it was concerted?

BOYNTON: It did not seem concerted. We think they are certainly an isolated group of students. I don't think they are connected events. And it was in various places - so bathroom stalls, walls, desks, as well as stairwells.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Have there been any leads from the police yet about who might be doing these things?

DOHERTY: You know, in most cases, we have not. In fact, in all cases, we have not had any leads or suspects.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What's been the reaction from the student body?

BOYNTON: The students are angry. They're hurt. They're scared. You know, they feel powerless in the face of these hateful acts. And so it's partly our job as educators to help them feel supported and to feel empowered to stand up against these acts of hate.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: John, can you just give me a sense of the makeup of Reading and the demographic breakdown of your schools there?

DOHERTY: Sure. So we're a suburban community just north of Boston. Primarily, our demographics are white. And we do have a small minority of African-American, Asian population, as well. But predominantly, we're a white community.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So this is to both Kathleen and John. And, Kathleen, we can start with you. We've seen a photo circulate in the last few weeks of mostly white boys in a Wisconsin high school giving the Nazi salute in a school photo. A lot of these racist attacks are often tied to white nationalist groups or people who have been exposed to white nationalist propaganda. And they tend to be men or boys who are white. Is there a specific conversation that we should be having with young men who are more susceptible to this kind of racist propaganda?

BOYNTON: I think it's important to talk to all students and talk with all students around issues of race and diversity. We held our first ever - and hopefully first of many - courageous conversations around race and diversity last week with students. And I think that's the conversation that we need to have with all of our students.

DOHERTY: We've also brought in, several times, Holocaust survivor Anna Ornstein, who has come and talked to the students about the types of things that happened in Nazi Germany in the '30s and '40s and how we can't let that repeat now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: John, I have to say hearing this - when something like this happens, a lot of people ask is, it's great that you're doing this now, but why hasn't this been part of the curriculum before? Why haven't kids been learning about the Holocaust in school? Why haven't they heard about lynchings and segregation and the violence of hate? Why does it take these incidents to sort of bring this conversation to the forefront?

DOHERTY: I think it's a great question. I don't want people to walk away thinking that we weren't doing these things in the past. We did Holocaust units prior to this time. I think we have now become more aware of what is going on. And I think also, we are reacting in some ways to what is happening in our society and how, as public school educators, we need to prepare our students better. We have to adjust our curriculum so that we can better prepare our students. So I - we did do some things before, but I think we've now enhanced the things to make them even better.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: John Doherty is the superintendent of Reading, Mass., Public Schools. And Kathleen Boynton is the principal of Reading Memorial High School.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIKTOR KRAUSS' "FAR FROM ENOUGH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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