In the wake of a deadly shooting Saturday at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh which left 11 dead, Gov. Rick Scott sent a letter Wednesday to Florida sheriffs and police chiefs requesting that they make it a priority to keep their religious communities safe.
Gov. Scott addressed the Florida Highway Patrol and Florida Department of Law Enforcement and asked each agency to provide threat and security assessments to any religious institution that requests it.
“I am a strong believer that you, local law enforcement professionals, are best suited to keep your communities safe,” the letter read.
The governor ordered that the agencies make one officer the point of contact for religious leaders to reach out to for advice and expertise. Gov. Scott also called on the state legislature to increase funding for Jewish Day School security from $2 million to $4 million for the school year.
“Everyone in Florida deserves the opportunity to worship peacefully in a safe environment,” Gov. Scott wrote.
Crimes targeting American Jews were already on the rise before the Saturday attack in Pittsburgh, the Associated Press reports.
“Year after year, decade after decade, anti-Semitism proves to be among the most entrenched and pervasive forms of hatred and bigotry in the United States,” the AP writes.
Roughly 4.2 million to 12 million Jewish people live in the nation, according to Jewish civil rights organization the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The wide estimate range is due to accounting for Jewish religious versus ethnic distinctions, the ADL says. U.S. Census Bureau data shows that people who are Jewish account for roughly 2.2 percent of the nation’s population.
“But in annual FBI data they repeatedly account for more than half of the Americans targeted by hate crimes committed due to religious bias,” the AP reports.
Anti-Semitic incidents nationwide spiked in 2017, the ADL reports. Roughly 2,000 anti-Semitic incidents – including harassment, vandalism and assault – were reported in 2017, a 57 percent increase and one the ADL calls “the largest escalation in a single year” since it began keeping records of anti-Semitic incidents in 1979.
In Florida, 69 incidents were reported to the ADL by November 2017. There was one case of assault, 50 harassment reports, and 18 reports of vandalism. States with larger numbers of Jewish populations tend to report the greatest number of anti-Semitic incidents, the ADL says. Florida is one of five states with higher numbers; New York, California, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania are the others.
Most of the incidents reported came from anti-Semitic bullying and vandalism in K-12 schools and college campuses, the ADL notes.