BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Detective David D’Amico, Chief Investigator for Middlesex County Department of Corrections, visited Governor Livingston High School on Friday, January 17, to speak to students in Current World Issues, Holocaust and Genocide, and the SAGA Club about a hate crimes and hate crime legislation.
D’Amico, who has been a police officer for over thirty years and has worked in both New Jersey and Florida, specializes in biased crimes, crimes that are committed based on the victim's identity. He is also a certified trainer in Bias Crimes Investigations, Cultural Diversity, and Sensitivity Training.
He began the discussion by talking about prejudice and how people become biased. He reminded the students that bias is a learned behavior, and is usually taught by family, friends, and the media. He displayed a pyramid diagram that shows how hate grows. The very tip of the pyramid is violence against others. The hope, said D’Amico, is that hate can be stopped before it reaches that extreme.
“The foundation of hate,” D’Amico explained, “is ignorance, and from there people’s hate can develop by being surrounded by hateful opinions and by separating themselves from the people who they hate.”
He showed the students a video about the history of hate and prejudice in America, which included images from events and attacks aimed to hurt people of certain races, religions, or sexual orientations. Such images were from Nazi rallies and lynchings to the more current attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11 and Pulse night club shooting in Orlando. The video reinforced the atrocities that hate can cause and continues to be a pressing issue in society.
D’Amico explained the motivation behind most of the laws concerning biased crimes. Two specific cases prompted the creation of federal hate crime laws: the murders of James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard.
To convey the reality of the brutality that hatred can cause, D’Amico showed Byrd’s autopsy photos, which were terribly graphic.
This presentation was emotionally moving to many students. Senior Jane Mirvis said, “I was moved by this presentation, not because of the actual slideshow up on the board, but rather, by the speaker, and what he chose to say. He also spoke in a genuine manner, and was not just reading off of a slideshow or note cards. And he made sure that the audience left with a connection to him and what he was saying- not just with a little bit of new information.”
At the conclusion of the presentation, D’Amico reminded the students to be “heroes, leaders, and role models” and report any hate related harassment they witness in or out of school.