“New York State’s diversity is our strength, yet too many New Yorkers continue to live in fear, and today we say enough is enough,” Governor Kathy Hochul said, as she spoke in Kew Gardens Hills to rally against the rise in hate crimes at the Queens College Student Union Ballroom. “Hate, racism, and xenophobia have no place in our State, and this critical funding sends a clear message that New York stands united against individuals who seek to sow hatred and divide us.”
On Wednesday, April 13, as Pesach preparations were in full swing, a remarkable display of kiddush Hashem, a sea of yarmulkes and a handful of sheitels littered the diverse crowd, making a strong impression on the elected officials and organizational heads present. Much appreciation is extended to Jacob Adler, Director of Jewish Affairs at New York State Executive Chamber and his Deputy Director Eva J. Wyner. Each speaker passionately spoke on the key words of public safety and criminal justice at the afternoon gathering, where Governor Hochul announced close to $16 million aimed at improving safety and security for organizations at risk of hate crimes. This amounted to 327 grants awarded to 205 organizations by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services as part of the State’s Securing Communities Against Hate Crimes (SCAHC). The program has sponsored approximately 1,700 projects with $83.1 million in grants to 600-plus organizations in danger of being targeted due to their ideology, beliefs, or missions since 2017.
Recipients of these grants, maxed at $50,000 for up to three buildings within their organization, have facilities in 28 counties in every region of the state. The funding may be used for interior or exterior security improvements, such as alarms, panic buttons, fences, shatter-resistant glass, and public address systems, among other items. Funds also may be used to cover costs associated with security training.
Recently, the governor finalized her budget for this fiscal year 2023 and included a historic investment in our communities by protecting victims of hate crimes proving that justice and public safety are not mutually exclusive. The enacted budget expanded resources for hate crime targets by directing $25 million towards grants to strengthen safety and security measures at buildings owned or operated by nonprofit organizations at risk of hate attacks. It also increased the reimbursement cap by $2,000 for victims who once were only eligible to receive $500. Also, based on budget reforms, all hate crimes are now arrest-eligible for those 18 or older.
As defined by state law, hate crimes target individuals, groups of individuals, or property because of a perception or belief about race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or other characteristics. While the total number of hate crime incidents reported to police statewide is a fraction of all reported crime, these crimes adversely affect entire communities, not just the intended individual or institution. New York State monitors these incidents to identify trends and measures that address or prevent an increase in attacks.
Preliminary, statewide data for 2021 shows a significant increase in hate crime incidents: 778 in 2021 as compared to 497 in 2020. Jewish, Black, Asian and LGBT individuals and institutions were most commonly targeted, and those incidents contributed to the statewide increase. The 778 hate crimes were the most reported during the ten-year period from 2012 through 2021. It was only the second time during that timeframe when total incidents exceeded 700; there were 734 hate crimes reported in 2012.
Division of Criminal Justice Services Commissioner Rossana Rosado said, “A hate crime against one New Yorker or organization is a crime against all New Yorkers. I am proud of my agency’s role in administering this funding, and I thank Governor Hochul for her commitment to helping ensure a diverse, vibrant, and safe New York for all its residents.”
The State Office of Victim Services funds more than 200 programs across the state that provide services, support, and assistance to victims of hate crimes and other crimes. The agency also can provide eligible individuals with financial assistance for expenses resulting from being the victim of hate or other crimes.
Frank H. Wu, President of Queens College, City University of New York, opened the program, saying, “We are deeply honored that Governor Kathy Hochul has returned to speak at Queens College on major policies and for her exemplary leadership in strongly standing against the virus of bigotry, anti-Semitism, and discrimination infecting our State and the Nation. We especially thank the Governor and State Legislature for negotiating a state budget that significantly advances the ability of Queens College and public higher education overall to prepare students to become successful leaders in our society.”
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik of the New York Board of Rabbis said, “Fighting hate crimes is a collective, communal responsibility. The person who hates me today will hate you tomorrow. We are of different faiths but of one family, and we stand together when anyone is a victim of this heinous hatred.”
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. stated, “From our Asian American and Jewish communities to Queens’ Sikh community, as we’ve seen in recent days, far too many families have experienced the sickening and sharp sting of hate over the past two years. Bigotry and violence are wholly antithetical to our values as Queens residents and as New Yorkers, and we must leave no stone unturned to not only help prevent hate crimes, but support those who have been targeted or otherwise touched by them.”
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz commented, “Hate crimes have no place anywhere and certainly not in the City of New York or the borough of Queens, the most diverse county in the nation, where our differences are our strength.”
Congress Member Grace Meng offered, “From safety in the subway and increased hate crimes to senseless gun violence and the ongoing mental health crisis, New York needs and deserves all the resources possible to combat the rise in crime. Public safety must continue to be the top priority for our city and state. Everybody deserves to feel safe, whether on mass transit or walking down the street, and I thank the Governor for prioritizing this issue.”
State Senator Toby Stavisky expressed, “On Friday, as the Jewish people observe Passover, which tells the story of the escape from slavery, we are reminded that the struggle is not over. The community faces hate on a regular basis. The Asian American community also continues to fight racism, bigotry, and injustice. People do not realize that unemployment is rampant, people face housing and food insecurity, and the highest poverty rate is in the Asian American community. This budget is our response to hate.”
Assemblymember Nily Rozic stated, “As the steady surge of hate crimes across New York continues, there is no room for complacency.”
Hometown Assemblymember Daniel Rosenthal concluded the rally, saying, “With hate crimes and anti-Semitic incidents on the rise, New Yorkers needed action over rhetoric.” Rosenthal noted the Governor’s consistent real leadership by ensuring that hate crimes join the ranks of other heinous crimes that are bail eligible. “Over the past few months, the Governor has taken a thoughtful and measured approach to public safety.”
The event was not all roses for the Democratic assemblage, as a loud and proud Republican contingent was on the scene to heckle the elected officials upon entrance. Led by State Senator Candidate Stefano Forte, 23, who is poised to unseat Stavisky in his bid for the northeastern Queens District 11 seat.
By Shabsie Saphirstein