Hispanic Center of West Michigan addresses threats in Kent County

Posted at 10:14 PM, Nov 14, 2016

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.-- Across the country, racially charged threats are being reported after the presidential election, even in West Michigan.

Roberto Torres, the executive director for the Hispanic Center of West Michigan, said Monday that they're seeing an increase in incidents happening in Kent County, especially in high schools. They're addressing the problem and are reaching out to the community for help, saying this behavior will not be tolerated.

"We're seeing rhetoric from the recent campaign spill out into our schools and our young people are mimicking some of the language and some of the chants that were illustrated during the campaign," said Torres.

Torres states at least two different incidents have occurred in high schools in Kent County with verbal threats being made toward Hispanic students.

"The students are being confronted with such language as 'Why are you still here?', 'Why haven't you packed?' and "Build that wall' and it hasn't just been one on one, it's been a group of students identifying a Latino individual," said Torres.

The incidents aren't isolated to Kent County. Recently, a server at T.G.I. Fridays in Kalamazoo County received no tip from a customer, but instead a profanity-laced note filled with racial and homophobic slurs and a reference to President-elect Donald Trump at the bottom.

On the east side of the state, students at Royal Oak Middle School were caught on camera chanting "Build that wall."

"At the end of the day, it is a hate crime," said Torres. "Call it whatever you want, that's what it is and it's intimidating. None of our children should ever see an institution of learning as a place where they can't go because they don't feel safe."

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss issued a statement over the weekend saying "There is absolutely no excuse for treating individuals this way" and "Our friends and neighbors need to know they are supported."

"Hate crimes are a crime and we will prosecute to the full extent if that happens in our community," said city manager Greg Sundstrom.

Sundstrom addressed concerns at the press conference on Monday urging anyone who has been a victim to come forward and report it so they can find the root of the problem.

"I strongly encourage everyone to be nice, take a step back, take a breath, this too shall pass," said Sundstrom. "The sun is going to rise tomorrow. We are all going to be here together so we need to work together."

Mayor Bliss plans on addressing the issues further Tuesday morning and is expected to read an official proclamation likely referring to the racially charged threats as well as the protests happening in Grand Rapids this past week.