Forum on antisemitism explains police response
By Lisa Brody
A community forum held at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township on Wednesday, December 14, by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit called “Keeping our Community Safe,” in response to the antisemitic attack on parents and preschool children at the temple on Friday, December 2, helped to explain police and prosecutor response after social media concern and condemnation.
As parents were dropping off their children for preschool on Friday, December 2, at Temple Beth El, 7400 Telegraph Road at 14 Mile, several were verbally accosted by a man, later identified as Hassan Chokr, 35, of Dearborn, in a vehicle yelling antisemitic slurs at them and their children, and following an investigation, Bloomfield Township police arrested him on two felony charges of ethnic intimidation on Sunday, December 4.
Bloomfield Township Police Chief James Gallagher, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Michigan Regional Director Carolyn Normandin, Steven Ingber, executive director, Jewish Federation, and others spoke to the hundreds gathered at the forum to assure community members that an active investigation had been, and continues to be, done.
Rabbi Mark Miller of Temple Beth El said, “For anyone who has seen the videos, there is no doubt this guy is a vile threat and I pray he will be locked up away from society as long as possible. It occurred at Temple Beth El, but it could have been at any one of our houses of worship or community agencies because the troubling reality is antisemitism, and antisemitic incidents, are on the rise across America.
“We know better than anyone that words matter,” he noted.
Normandin agreed that antisemitism is rising, as she sees reports from across the country. “It is at a fevered pitch,” she said.
She said most do not involve law enforcement. “These are the nagging, hurtful and troubling cases I deal with. Sometimes they're veiled in 'freedom of speech' or anti-Israel rhetoric,” pointing out the goal of the perpetrators is to sow discord.
“Social media has become a super spreader in the menace,” Normandin said. “It is not free speech. We see an uptick every time something goes viral.”
Chief Gallagher of Bloomfield Township said his agency is well aware of the rise in antisemitism. “We can't believe some of the speech that is legal,” he said.
He then recounted the case at Temple Beth El as it occurred, noting they received one non-emergency call just before 9 a.m. He said the officers who made the traffic stop, which the suspect videoed and uploaded to Instagram, were not aware of his hate speech.
“I am sympathetic, our officers are sympathetic, based on the speech. It looks like we have a problem. Unfortunately for the officer, he didn't have that information at that time,” Gallagher explained. “His job was to identify him so we could move forward. We are trained to not engage because we don't want to be a YouTube sensation.”
After the traffic stop, the department immediately contacted the Dearborn Police Department, which put surveillance on the subject, Gallagher said. “At 4 p.m. he did us a favor and uploaded his video, which gave us the evidence we needed and we submitted to the prosecutor's office at 10 p.m. (Friday night). We spoke to the administration numerous times over the weekend and we were able to maintain that we knew where the subject was. Early Saturday morning, Dearborn police took him into custody, and on Sunday, we did based on our evidence.
“Behind the scenes, you may not know it, but we had many people, both locally and federally, working to bring this to a conclusion and result with someone being locked up for some time,” Gallagher said. “We take it very seriously. We look at it as if it were our children, our families.”
Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said she established a Hate Crimes Division in 2020 when she was first elected.
“We are dedicated and focused on these types of crimes. We're going to prosecute it vigorously,” she said.