Human Rights Commission learns hate group threat is low, but many still willing to address issue

Human Rights Commission

Adam Yates, chief of the Quincy Police Department, speaks to members of the Human Rights Commission during a Tuesday meeting at City Hall. | David Adam

QUINCY — Adam Yates, chief of the Quincy Police Department, told the Human Rights Commission and a crowd of about 40 people at City Hall on Tuesday night that he learned earlier this week from state officials that they had no information about any hate groups operating locally.

Yates said his department contacted the Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center in Springfield after it was made aware that a local business owner in the 62305 ZIP code had received unsolicited recruitment materials postmarked March 13 from the far-right American Nazi Party at her home address within city limits.

“It’s important for us to reiterate that, according to the agency that we depend on for information intelligence on these types of activities, they indicated in the Quincy/Adams County area there are no actual intelligence organizations or groups operating out of our particular area,” Yates told the commission. “They indicate that the mailings seem to be random, and they appear to have nothing to do with the actual locations to which the mailings are sent.”

Yates said he spoke with First Assistant State’s Attorney Todd Eyler, and they agreed they did not have enough information to indicate that a crime had been committed or that investigation was warranted.

“It was a flyer and a piece of literature and not a direct threat to any individual or group of individuals,” Yates said. “That’s frustrating for us, but unfortunately, the First Amendment allows various political groups to operate, whether I like it or not.”

At the beginning of the meeting, Allie Tate, a violence prevention specialist with the Quincy Area Network Against Domestic Abuse (QUANADA), told the commission about an incident last summer when a wooden sign with the words, “Jews Love Showers,” was placed on the front lawn of the property at 2707 Maine.

“It was in reference to what we interpreted as a concentration camp statement,” Tate said. “We quickly removed that sign and then reported it to the police, and they took over that investigation. Nothing really came of it, but we did report it and we did experience that. Luckily we did find it really quickly.”

Yates said he spoke with QUANADA Executive Director Megan Duesterhaus on Monday. He then explained that he has yet to find information about that call.

“Without a specific date, we have to do a little bit more digging,” Yates explained. “So I continue to look through our calls for service to see if we can find out exactly why they were sent out there and try to glean a little more information. I can’t really speak to that incident. … The first I heard about it was when I heard about it (Monday), so I’m trying to start peeling back the layers.”

Commissioner Dennis Williams was frustrated by Yates’ comments.

“This isn’t just about one (piece of) literature,” he said. “This isn’t just about whether they have the right (to mail the literature). It’s offensive. I think the community is saying that. I heard you say, ‘This bothers me,’ and you continuously said that. What’s concerning to me, though, is that you said, ‘I can’t find (QUANADA’s) stuff.’ If I make a report, is it going to get lost again? I’m not saying you know, because you said you just found out about it. But somebody in your organization did. You did get that report, and you’re having difficulty finding that report. 

“It’s not just happening just this time and in a small amount. How much value are we putting on in our community? How much is it a concern if somebody says, ‘Oh, don’t worry. I’m not going to say anything about that, because I know nothing’s going to get done’?”

Williams said he wants people in positions of authority in law enforcement and the criminal justice system to say that instances like this are not good for Quincy.

“Don’t say, ‘It just doesn’t happen,’” Williams said. “It’s just that you haven’t experienced it, or you don’t experience it, because I still do. I experience on a regular basis. But I want you to hear that so you can start to change your dialogue or conversation and say we just need to know more about something.”

Each of the seven commissioners in attendance spoke during the meeting, as well as several members in the audience. Many of the comments were questions about how to get information to the public, making feel comfortable reporting similar incidents to the police and what to do going forward.

Commissioner Rev. Orville Jones asked Yates for guidance about what’s legal and what is not when it comes to solicitation like the one that led to Tuesday’s meeting. 

“If someone sent a letter from one of these (hate) groups, or someone simply doesn’t like you and threatens you, your family or your property, and there’s some type of indication that they intend to do you harm or to get commit some type of crime against you,” Yates replied. “Something that would allow us to basically say, ‘This is the perpetrator, and that the information is specific to you.’ That’s kind of the line (someone would have to cross).”

“The reason I’m asking that is because sometimes we think there’s no reason to report or to talk about it, because nothing’s going to happen anyway,” Jones added. “I wanted to kind of clarify that so we understand there are some things that the police can do if it rises to a certain level. If it doesn’t get to that point, it doesn’t mean they don’t care. It just means their hands are tied.”

Williams told Yates he understood why the letter received last month was not an example of breaking the law, but he also asked, “If I feel threatened by that, isn’t that still breaking the law? I don’t understand that. How can that not be breaking the law to me if I have to worry about my family in my household? How’s that not breaking the law? … That’s a threat to me in my neighborhood, in my town. It’s a threat to me.”

Jesus Delgado with American Legion Post 37 in Quincy then spoke up. He told the commission he served in Iraq and has seen many people burn the American flag. 

“That to me is disrespectful, just like any literature to (Williams) is disrespectful,” he said. “But that’s not a crime. I served my country so they can do stuff like that. The only time it’s actually a threat is when they point a gun at you. Same thing with the literature. If they make a threat, then (law enforcement) can go after them. But they can’t go after them for burning the American flag. 

“I understand your frustration, sir, with all due respect. No, I’m not going to take it away from you, but you’ve got to know how we feel about it also.”

Adams County Sheriff Tony Grootens thought discussions like the one held Tuesday night are important.

“We need that dialogue back and forth, especially as law enforcement, because we don’t have a lot of trust,” he said. “People don’t trust us naturally, but as long as we can keep the dialogue back and forth, I think we’re headed in the right direction.”

Commissioner Rev. Carl Terry asked for those in attendance to speak about Tuesday’s meeting and educate people.

“This is just the beginning,” he said. “We need to continue, because propaganda can spread by itself. The thing that’s really interesting for me as a black man is there’s a little racism here. I don’t know if you want to admit it, but there is racism in Quincy. Let’s understand. I want to make sure everybody hears me. There is racism in Quincy. That’s why Brother Williams is so angry because there is racism in Quincy.”

“We’re never going to fix it,” Eyler said. “We’re never going to eradicate this type of hatred, this type of mindset, this type of thing. But what we can do is use it as a springboard to continue to talk and have meetings just like this.”

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