WESTFIELD, NJ — A soon-to-be created committee will be tasked with fostering an environment of inclusivity, the mayor said.

The town is accepting applications for the new Human Relations Advisory Committee which will be formalized by ordinance next month, Mayor Shelley Brindle said Tuesday.

The advisory committee will work with the mayor, the town council and the school board to “improve access to programs, recommend policies, promote inclusivity and provide education and awareness within Westfield,” Brindle said.

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It will consist of seven members and two alternates, she said. Brindle had discussed forming the new committee at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Interfaith Commemoration Service earlier this month.

“Our fight against intolerance and racial injustice never ends,” Brindle then said, in discussing the committee’s formation. “And unfortunately, it’s a struggle that our own community knows all too well. Bias incidents including racist and anti-Semitic graffiti seem to be happening with increasing frequency.”

This academic year has seen two publicly reported incidents where racist and anti-Semitic graffiti was found drawn at Westfield High School: One incident happened on Oct. 25. The other incident happened Dec. 20. It followed a series of incidents at Westfield Public Schools in 2018 and in years prior.

School officials have cited their participation in the Anti-Defamation League’s “No Place for Hate” program, which requires schools to form an advisory committee and design and implement several school-wide activities to combat bias and bullying as among the efforts to combat hate.

In December, the Westfield school board generated a heated community conversation over race and religion when it voted 6-3 to approve a course on the barriers experienced by ethnic minorities in the U.S. Critics denounced the inclusion of critical race theory in parts of the curriculum.

Westfield, which is home to two synagogues, is not alone in seeing a rise in hate incidents. A man accused of stabbing five Hasidic Jews at a Hanukkah celebration in Monsey, New York, in December was charged with federal hate crimes.

The stabbing came just weeks after a deadly shootout at a Kosher supermarket in Jersey City — an incident that raised concern among Jewish leaders across New Jersey when it became clear the crimes were motivated by anti-Semitic sentiments.

In its 2018 Hate Crime Statistics Act report, the FBI found that total hate crimes decreased slightly in 2018 after three consecutive years of increases, according to the Anti-Defamation League. While religion-based hate crimes decreased by eight percent from 2017, nearly 60 percent of hate crime attacks were targeted against Jews and Jewish institutions in 2018, the ADL reported.

To learn more about the Human Relations Advisory Committee and to apply to volunteer, visit www.westfieldnj.gov/hracvolunteer. The deadline to apply is the close of business Wednesday, Feb. 5, according to the town.

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