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MIAMI – On Jan. 30, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida and the FBI, hosted a Protecting Places of Worship forum, facilitated by the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service, with nearly 200 faith and community leaders as part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s United Against Hate initiative.
The Protecting Places of Worship forum brought together U.S. Department of Justice representatives and others, including faith-based leaders and congregants (from churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples), federal and state prosecutors, and law enforcement and public safety personnel to prevent and combat hate crimes and protect our local faith-based institutions. The attendees came together to learn about and discuss: best practices for protecting and securing places of worship; how local, state, and federal hate crimes laws are used to prosecute people who harm or threaten places of worship and their congregants; how and when to identify, report and prevent threats to places of worship, hate crimes, acts of religious violence, and faith-based discrimination; hate crimes statistics; strategies to prepare staff, clergy, and congregants for an active shooter situation; resources available to places of worship; as well as victim services and community concerns.
“In a time when we are witnessing a rise in religious-based violence, hate crimes, and threats to our places of worship, yesterday’s forum in support of the Department’s United Against Hate initiative could not be more imperative,” stated U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe. “One of the best ways to prevent crimes fueled by religious bias is to ensure that our faith-based leaders have the information and resources they need to help protect their places of worship and congregants. No one should live in fear because of their religious beliefs. We must all speak out against the insidious threats that strike at our right to practice our religious beliefs freely and safely. Remember, united, we are stronger than hate.” “Everyone who attends a religious service deserves to do so in peace,” said Jeffrey B. Veltri, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Miami.
“Yesterday’s gathering marked another milestone in our ongoing partnership with faith-based community leaders to protect houses of worship from those intent on violence. Hate crimes are the highest priority of the FBI’s civil rights program. As such, we want our religious leaders to have the latest information on ways to secure their facilities and deal with threats that may come their way. We hope that the forum serves to further educate our faith communities about civil rights laws, maintain an open dialogue, and encourage ongoing cooperation between law enforcement and these important communities. Our common goal is to ensure people are safe.”
The Protecting Places of Worship forum fostered partnerships and engagement, while providing attendees with invaluable federal, state, and local resources, to include tools to help protect and secure places of worship. Forum partners included the Department of Justice Community Relations Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Defense Agency, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, the Broward State Attorney’s Office, the Broward Sherriff’s Office, the Miami-Dade County Asian American Advisory Board, the Miami-Dade County Interfaith Advisory Board, the Anti-Defamation League of Florida, and the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement and community partners will not stop working to protect everyone in South Florida from unlawful acts of hate.
In Sept. 2022, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland started the United Against Hate program to convene local forums that connect community groups to federal, state, and local law enforcement to increase community understanding and reporting of hate crimes; build trust between law enforcement and communities; and create and strengthen alliances between law enforcement and other government partners and community groups to combat unlawful acts of hate. The United Against Hate program represents a “whole of government” approach to combating hate crimes. To learn more visit https://www.justice.gov/hatecrimes/spotlight/united-against-hate.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida and our law enforcement partners are United Against Hate. Our united mission is to prevent, investigate and prosecute threats to places of worship and hate crimes through education, outreach, and the justice system. The U.S. Attorney’s Office Hate Crimes Public Service Announcement (PSA) can be viewed at https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdfl/media/1336351/dl?inline. For more information visit the Southern District of Florida’s Hate Crimes Prevention and Enforcement website at https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdfl/hate-religious-crimes.
In support of the United Against Hate mission, following the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel, U.S. Attorney Lapointe and Special Agent in Charge Veltri issued a statement highlighting the Department’s commitment to combat hate crimes and potential threats to the South Florida community. A copy of the statement can be found at https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdfl/pr/joint-statements-us-attorney-markenzy- lapointe-southern-district-florida-and-special.
In a Nov. 2023 program, U.S. Attorney Lapointe, FBI Special Agent in Charge Veltri, Broward County State Attorney Harold F. Pryor, and Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle addressed over 200 South Florida law enforcement officers during a day-long interactive training session. The program included a keynote address by Judy and Dennis Shepard of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and a presentation by the Anti-Defamation League. More information regarding the training program is available by visiting https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdfl/pr/south-florida-law-enforcement-officers- receive-latest-hate-crimes-training.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI’s outreach, prevention, and enforcement efforts are ongoing.
If you have information about a possible threat to a place of worship or believe you are a victim of or a witness to a hate crime, contact your local law enforcement agency (911), then the FBI at www.fbi.gov/tips or 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225- 5324). You can also report a hate crime, find resources and grant information, and learn more about the Department of Justice’s hate crimes prevention and enforcement work by visiting www.justice.gov/hatecrimes.
Public Affairs Unit
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Florida