“We care about hate crimes, and we take them seriously,” said Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson when speaking to ADL’s Southwest Region October board meeting. In fact, she cares so much about hate crimes, she changed the way the DA’s office deals with them.
She told ADL’s board she met with members of the Jewish community as an indirect response to what happened in Ferguson, Missouri in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s killing. Anderson said, “I realized how disconnected the DA’s office was with the community,” and said she started having meetings with representatives of various community segments.
ADL’s former Regional Director Martin B. Cominsky, Board Chair Ian Scharfman, Associate Director Dena Marks, and Security Committee Chair Don Maierson joined other Jewish institutional leaders in the meeting, where Scharfman asked the District Attorney whether she would speak to ADL’s board, and Scharfman, Cominsky, Marks and Maierson expressed an interest in having more hate crimes prosecuted.
Anderson immediately agreed to speak, and took ADL’s hate crime concerns to heart. She looked into the way Harris County handled hate crimes, and found a flaw in the process. She says the way prosecutors could designate a crime a possible hate crime made it less likely it would be prosecuted that way. She says she streamlined the process to make it easier to suggest a crime was a hate crime from the beginning of the prosecutorial process, and she believed that would result in more crimes being prosecuted as hate crimes.
Anderson said it was more than just the right thing to do. “It’s a community messaging issue,” she added. “We want to send a message that we have zero tolerance of hate crimes.”
Anderson didn’t stop at the procedural changes. She invited Jean and Jerry Moore Southwest Area Counsel to do a hate crimes training and required all her prosecutors to attend. Drazin gave that training in August and was very well-received.
Anderson also said as she was preparing for her speech, she found out Harris County had no way of tallying the number of hate crimes cases it had prosecuted, so she is working on a record-keeping process that would tally the number of hate crimes prosecuted.