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Tori Bedford
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Interim District Attorney Kevin Hayden and City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo are running to serve as Suffolk County district attorney. PHOTO: Tori Bedford

The next Suffolk County district attorney will face a challenging question: Is Boston equipped to handle a rising tide of hate crimes and white supremacist activity?

“It’s not just about what has happened, it’s about where we’re going,” incumbent Suffolk DA Kevin Hayden said at a candidate forum last Thursday hosted by the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts. “We have key elections coming up and controversial decisions coming down from the Supreme Court [of the United States] that we know are going to bring more issues to bear … we need to be better prepared for the future.”

Hayden’s primary challenger, Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, called for an “urgent reevaluation” of policing in response to white supremacist groups, particularly those with strong local recruitment efforts.

“We have a gang database that polices Black and Latino youth, but we have no database on individual members of these kinds of hate [groups],” Arroyo said. “From a standpoint of how we are surveilling and how we are operating, there’s a troubling pattern … of underestimating and under-utilizing our policing efforts when it comes to white supremacists and the threat that they pose to our communities.”

Arroyo called for a public hearing to question why the Boston Regional Intelligence Center seemed to have no prior knowledge that the right-wing group Patriot Front had organized members from across the country to march through Boston on July 2. Hayden’s office did not respond to allegations of insufficient intelligence, but did emphasize that those involved in the march would be prosecuted “to the fullest extent allowed by Massachusetts law.”

After local white supremacist group Nationalist Social Club-131 protested a drag queen story hour event in Jamaica Plain last week, U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins, the former Suffolk County district attorney, announced plans to create a dedicated hotline that will allow citizens to report white supremacist activity in their communities.

Since an attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last January, hate groups are increasingly making their recruitment efforts public in Massachusetts through demonstrations, leaflets, vandalism and online organizing.

Massachusetts has the fourth-highest level of hate propaganda in the nation, with historic levels of antisemetic and white supremacist messaging, according to a report from the Anti-Defamation League.

Hayden’s office announced last week that two additional civil rights attorneys will be added to the DA’s High Risk Victims Unit “due to recent hate-based incidents,” with a goal to continue training prosecutors to handle hate crimes “as these cases come up in the future,” Hayden said Thursday.

Both candidates emphasized prosecuting those who perpetuate hate crimes “to the fullest extent of Massachusetts law,” a policy that faces its own scrutiny: legislation to reform and clarify hate crime statutes now sits before the judiciary committee.

Massachusetts voters will cast ballots to decide five contested statewide elections, including Suffolk County district attorney, in the Sept. 6 primary.

Tori Bedford covers Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan for GBH, 89.7.