The City of Jacksonville hosted the first of two informational sessions for faith leaders and their communities on Monday night.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, along with the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security were there to offer information on religious hate crimes and laws and how to deal with those hate crimes when they happen.
Unfortunately, faith leaders from every religion are dealing with threats of some magnitude. But the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security want religious organizations to know there are resources they can tap into.
It’s a conversation that’s necessary to ensure the safety of worshippers in the city of Jacksonville. Faith leaders and residents attended Monday night’s Protecting Places of Worship session to learn about religious hate crimes and how they can be prevented. Amanda Videll, spokesperson for FBI Jacksonville, said statistics show that hate crimes have been on the rise for about five years. But their concern is the hate crimes they don’t know about.
“Just understanding the law, understanding your rights, trusting the law enforcement process, coming forward with information when you have it. That is why we’re having these important conversations so that the community knows they can come to us and we will help them when they find themselves in these unfortunate situations,” Videll said.
Videll said it’s important to know the difference between hate speech and hate crimes.
“Hate speech, no matter how abhorrent it is, is still your right to free speech so we’re going to uphold that right for you, but knowing when something becomes a threat, recognizing when something becomes a potential threat and then reporting it, that’s what’s really important here,” she said.
Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan said the city decided to host these sessions after the racially motivated shooting that happened at a Dollar General store a month and a half ago. She shared what else the city is doing to make sure people feel safe in their communities.
“We have long worked with our pastors and our rabbis and our other folks in Jacksonville that are responsible for our places of worship to try to make them feel comfortable. I know the sheriff’s office has as well. We partnered with a number of different organizations here today so this is just an ongoing effort for us,” Deegan said.
John Newman, Senior Pastor for the Sanctuary at Mount Calvary Church, shared why it’s important to make sure people feel safe when they worship.
“The way terror works is when you get terrorized you change your lifestyle, you change what you comfortably do because now you’re not comfortable anymore for fear of your life. It’s important that we mitigate those things and take every possible precaution to make sure people can continue what they are ordinarily doing and worship is a part of that continuance,” Newman said.
There is another presentation on Tuesday at 9 a.m. at the main library downtown. The city asks for people to RSVP if they plan on attending the meeting.
The sessions will include:
Overview of religious hate crimes and laws
Tools and resources from federal and local law enforcement to assess the safety of places of worship
Overview of active shooter training and situations
Best practices for the prevention of and response to hate crimes against places of worship
Information about federal grants available to fund security needs at your place of worship
You can register to attend this event at www.coj.net/ppow.