Nashville’s Jewish community is witnessing an increase in antisemitic activity, and it is not alone. According to a 2022 report from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, crimes against the LGBTQ community doubled in the prior two years. The rise in these incidents has led many people to classify them as hate crimes, but legal statutes have a very specific definition for hate crimes.
Around the same time as the TBI report, the United States Department of Justice launched a nationwide United Against Hate initiative. The program is aimed at engagement and outreach by all 94 US Attorney offices nationwide to help communities learn how they can combat hate crimes. Locally, The Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville is hosting a panel discussion, led by Nani Gilkerson, the Assistant United States Attorney’s criminal and civil rights coordinator.
The Observer newspaper spoke with Gilkerson to learn more about how her office plans to roll out the United Against Hate initiative.
Observer: What is the motivation behind the initiative, and who is the leadership behind it in Middle Tennessee:
Gilkerson: The overall goal is to increase understanding and reporting of hate crimes. Middle Tennessee has a new US Attorney, Henry Leventis. He has a background in prosecuting civil rights cases, so he is focused on it along with building relationships with communities. The United Against Hate initiative is a good template for accomplishing that.
Observer: What can people expect when they attend the Federation’s event?
Gilkerson: First, we want to educate about what our office does. There are a huge number of crimes committed, but only a small number that fall into federal jurisdiction. There is often frustration around why we can’t do more. We plan to have representatives from the FBI, TBI, MNPD, and victims’ witness coordinators. We all work together and sometimes have overlapping jurisdictions.
Observer: What are some of the challenges your office faces in combatting hate crimes?
Gilkerson: First, law enforcement has limited tools at its disposal, and there are societal issues that can’t be fixed by law enforcement alone. There is important work to be done outside of law enforcement.
Observer: Can you elaborate on that?
Gilkerson: We want to help people understand the difference between a hate crime and a hate incident, so that’s a top priority. We also want people to feel like their concerns are taken seriously. We are here to listen, to help, and to enforce.
Observer: Why do you think we have seen this rise in antisemitism and other hate crimes?
Gilkerson: Personally, I think that’s a bigger philosophical question about who we are at this moment as a country.
Observer: It seems like you face an uphill battle all the time. How do you measure success in your work in terms of making progress?
Gilkerson: I take things one step at a time. I focus on the quality of our work, the integrity of our work, and on getting justice for people who have been victims. We have the pleasure of wearing the white hat and we do it regardless of who is President. And we do it the same way in every administration. I also remember that the vast majority of people are products of their upbringing and are human beings.
The event on October 30 is scheduled from 7-8:30pm. In addition to US Attorney Nani Gilkerson, panelists will include: Henry Leventis (US Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee), Jae Lim (Civil Civil Rights Coordinator, US Attorney’s Office), John Hernandez (Victim Assistance Specialist, US Attorney’s Office), Rich Baer (Supervisory Special Agent, FBI), Lucas McTaggart (Special Agent, Civil Rights, FBI), Lt. Jason Sharpe (MNPD SID). To register, scan the QR code.