Karen McDonald
Karen McDonald

The creation of the unit corresponds with the rise in white supremacist extremism, political violence and antisemitism, including in Oakland County, home to the vast majority of Jews in Michigan.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald has a quote framed in her office from Ruth Bader Ginsburg that says, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” McDonald, who just marked her 100th day in office on April 11, is putting that quote to action. 

Among the many reforms and policy initiatives in her administration so far, McDonald has implemented a particularly relevant aid to the Jewish community: the establishment of the first-ever Hate Crimes Unit in Oakland County. 

The creation of the unit corresponds with the rise in white supremacist extremism, political violence and antisemitism, including in Oakland County, home to the vast majority of Jews in Michigan. 

“I’m from a blended family — I have three Jewish stepchildren and a Jewish husband, and we’re members of Temple Beth El so the Jewish community in our county matters deeply to me,” McDonald said.

“I have been very concerned about antisemitism across the country. We’re seeing an increase in these incidents, particularly violent antisemitism and, according to the ADL, we’ve had 35 antisemitic incidents in Oakland County over the past four years. That’s not insignificant.” 

The Hate Crimes Unit takes place within Oakland County’s Special Victims Unit, with a dedicated prosecutor who reviews files for charges and acts that were instigated from a place of prejudice against someone’s ethnicity, religion, race or sexual orientation. That dedicated prosecutor is specially trained in how to prosecute hate crimes. 

“I’ve been an attorney for almost 25 years. I have never in my experience as a prosecutor, a private practice attorney, a judge and now as the elected prosecutor, been so concerned about the crimes in our country that come from this white supremacist extremism and violence,” McDonald said. “We have to put more attention and resources into prosecuting those individuals.” 

All the prosecutors in the Special Victims Unit have done the hate crimes training, but the designated point person is Tricia Dare, the chief of the Special Victims Unit.

The added attention and resources don’t just include a commitment to training the prosecutors in the Special Victims Unit, but also to partnering with law enforcement across the county to train officers and investigators how to spot hate crimes, how to properly investigate and present them for charges. 

McDonald’s message to the Jewish community is that they recognize what’s happening and are taking action. 

“We’re at a moment in this country where we’re either going to allow that kind of hate to prevail, or we’re going to have to make serious efforts to combat it,” McDonald said. “We have to call it out, we have to investigate it, and we have to prosecute those crimes.” 

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