Council weighs hate crime bill

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Legislation would form interagency office tasked with coordinating city’s anti-hate efforts


  • A police and fire call box on the Upper West Side, near West 104th Street and Columbus Avenue, was vandalized with a swastika and “KKK” in October 2018. Photo: Office of Council Member Mark Levine

  • Two swastikas were carved on the front door of the Fourth Universalist Society on the Upper West Side in February 2017. Photo: Rev. Schuyler Vogel

troubling times

• Feb. 28, 2017: The entrance of the Fourth Universalist Society, a Unitarian Universalist church on Central Park West, was defaced with swastikas soon after officials declared the church would serve as a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.

• March 20, 2017: Timothy Caughman, a 66-year-old black man, was allegedly murdered on West 36th Street by a white supremacist who reportedly admitted to police that he had traveled to New York from Baltimore specifically to kill black men.

• Oct. 25, 2017: Vandals spray painted a swastika on the doors of Sutton Place Synagogue on East 51st Street.

• July 28, 2018: The white supremacist group Identity Evropa held a demonstration in Fort Tyron Park in Inwood, unveiling a banner reading “Stop the invasion, end immigration.”

• Oct. 1, 2018: A sukkah on the East River Esplanade in Carl Schurz Park was defaced by vandals on the last day of the celebratory Jewish holiday of Sukkot

• Oct. 12, 2018: Members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group, clashed with anti-fascist protesters in street brawls after Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes delivered a speech at the Metropolitan Republican Club on the Upper East Side.

• Nov. 1, 2018: A Bronx man allegedly defaced African Burial Ground National Monument in Lower Manhattan with a racial slur.

Amidst a recent spike in hate crimes, the City Council is considering legislation that would create a new city office dedicated to addressing bias-motivated incidents.

Early in November, soon after a gunman killed 11 Jewish congregants at a Pittsburgh synagogue, police in New York City arrested an individual suspected of drawing swastikas on several Upper West Side buildings. Several similar acts occurred in Brooklyn within a few days, adding to a list of over 500 anti-Semitic incidents reported across the city in the last two years.

Legislation introduced by Council Member Mark Levine would establish a new mayoral office for the prevention of such hate crimes. The office would serve to foster cooperation and collaboration between the various city agencies involved in disparate issues relating to hate crime, ranging from law enforcement and prosecution to outreach and prevention to counseling services for victims.

“When the city confronts major challenges like this, we often establish an entity to coordinate amongst the many agencies that are required to work together,” Levine said at a Nov. 19 hearing, citing existing interagency bodies tasked with coordinating city resources dedicated to domestic violence prevention and legal assistance programs, among other topics.

The new office, Levine said, would provide policymakers with a more holistic view of the city’s efforts to fight hate crimes and their effectiveness, enabling officials of various agencies to better coordinate budget requests, work together on common strategies, share statistics, target resources for victims and identify trends and vulnerabilities.

“This would be a way to coordinate prevention, awareness, investigation, prosecution, impact on communities” and all other aspects of the city’s response to hate crimes, Levine said.

Jewish New Yorkers are consistently the city’s most frequently targeted group, with anti-Semitic hate crimes accounting for nearly half of all reported incidents in 2017. To date, anti-Semitic hate crimes are up 18 percent over last year.

“The increased reports of swastikas and other criminal mischief here in the five boroughs absolutely concern us, and none of it will ever be tolerated in New York City,” NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said at a Nov. 7 press conference. O’Neill said hate crimes were down at the beginning of the year, but a recent uptick, which he attributed to “the current atmosphere,” has put this year’s figures in line with the previous total.

Hate crimes targeting African-Americans are up 27 percent this year over 2017, including a Nov. 1 incident in which a Bronx man allegedly scrawled a racial slur on the African Burial Ground National Monument in Lower Manhattan.

As of Nov. 11, the NYPD has recorded 308 confirmed hate crime incidents citywide in 2018, slightly more than the 303 incidents recorded through the same point last year. The number of reported incidents citywide in 2018 is on pace to align with the 2017 and 2016 totals of 325 and 333, respectively, up from 309 in 2015.

At the national level, the FBI’s tally of reported hate crime incidents increased by 17 percent in 2017 from the prior year — the third consecutive year in which the number of hate crimes increased.

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