Sen. Blumenthal calls for tougher federal laws against hate crimes

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HARTFORD--On Monday morning, Sen. Richard Blumenthal joined with leaders of local and national advocacy groups to announce plans that he will introduce new legislation to strengthen laws against hate crimes.

In the week following the presidential election, the Southern Poverty Law Center has documented 700 incidents of hateful harassment.

Connecticut has recently seen several instances of hate crimes and hate speech, including racist remarks painted on Old Lyme High School, a KKK costume and Donald Trump flag on display at an East Windsor bonfire and high school students shouting "build the wall" during a Wilton-Danbury football game.

Sen. Blumenthal said the planned legislation will do four things: increase penalties; offer incentives and resources for reporting and training; give people the option to take private legal action; and allow anonymous reporting at the federal level.

Blumenthal was joined Monday by Anti-Defamation League Leadership Chair David Slossberg, Council on American-Islamic Relations Executive Director Mongi Dhaouadi, Greater Hartford NAACP President Imam Abdul-Shahid Muhammad Ansari and founder and executive director of True Colors Inc., Robin P. McHaelen.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations said the post-election behavior being exhibited across the country is part of a larger trend.

"There's an alarming and dangerous increase against attacks against Muslims -- 67 percent increase in 2015 alone," said Mongi Dhaouadi.

Dhaouadi said many within the Muslim community do not speak up for fear of being scrutinized or questioned.

"'Why are they doing this?'" said Dhaouadi, giving examples of questions Muslims might be asked. "'Why are they whining?' 'Aren't they grateful about this country, being here?' These are real issues that we deal with."

Robin McHaelen, founder of Hartford-based LGBTQ-advocacy group True Colors, Inc., said she has been bombarded with phone calls since the election from individuals who are fearful of the future. "They don't know what new laws might come out, what existing benefits and abilities to survive might be taken away," said McHaelen.

Blumenthal said the incidents in Connecticut and nationwide send the wrong message. "Every one of these hate-based incidents has profound meaning and sends a message that is un-American," said Blumenthal.

Sen. Blumenthal said he plans to introduce the federal legislation during the next legislative session beginning on January 3.