Law enforcement, faith leaders gather for safety forum focused on active shooters, hate crimes

Harrisburg

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — An interfaith forum on safety brought together citizens, faith leaders and state, local and federal law enforcement officials Thursday night in Harrisburg.

Experts say they can’t stress enough that planning and preparation are key in today’s world, and that it could make all the difference in the event of an active shooter.

“We don’t wanna be easy targets,” said Ann Rosenberg.

But for many in the Jewish faith, she says, that’s the reality. She thinks violence has increased across the board.

“‘Anything goes, you’re allowed to say anything you want, ‘I have my freedom of speech’, and people forget about ‘yeah but you’re not allowed to do something that’s harmful to somebody else’,” Rosenberg said.

State Police say if you ever suspect a hate crime, don’t be afraid to call.

“It needs to be documented as soon as possible, once it’s documented our office and the PA State Police will do their job in investigating it to the best of their ability,” said Trooper Aaron Allen, who serves as a Heritage Affairs Liaison. “We investigate and oversee any hate crime or bias-related incident that happens throughout the whole entire state.

The FBI discussed hate-filled “social isolates” who become active shooters. They stress that houses of worship need to have a plan in place before any such event happens, and make sure it’s flexible. Don’t think, ‘it won’t happen here,’ and make sure congregants know the exits, and are told to get out if they can, and not stay back.

An FBI spokesman said to remember “Run, Hide, Fight” as plans are developed. Remove yourself only if you can do so safely, and don’t make your priority trying to save others. If you have to hide, lock yourself in a room, turn out the lights, silence phones and keep quiet; if you’re not in a room, conceal yourself behind large objects that can hide your entire body. Fight is a last resort, and experts advise committing 100% in your mind to choose this step: act with aggression, and look for improvised weapons around you, and commit to taking the shooter down.

“We want to make sure that we, whichever house of worship we belong to, know how to keep our congregants safe,” said Ayesha Ahmad, a member of the Hadee Mosque.

Ahmad wanted to learn how other houses protect their worshippers.

“Obviously a house of worship is a house of god so you want to keep it open but you also want to take the appropriate precautions,” she said.

The FBI says anti-Jewish attacks are most common, followed by Muslim and then Catholic. And it’s all happening in places where hate shouldn’t exist.

“It’s where you should not have to worry that you are going to be a target,” Rosenberg said, stressing only a diverse community approach will help everyone be prepared. “We can’t just throw our hands up and say ‘they’re nutty people and we can’t do anything’. Unfortunately Jews in history have been easy scapegoats.”

The FBI shared data that suggested reported hate crimes were down 2017 to 2018, but that the overall trend saw an increase of 30% from 2014 to 2018.

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