Two bills’ focus: Preventing hate before it happens

From left, Congressmember Nydia Velázquez and Councilmembers Chaim Deutsch, Mark Levine and Donovan Richards at the announcement of the new bills. Photo by Sydney Pereira

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | In the wake of rising hate crimes, City Council members are ramping up hate crime prevention efforts in two recent bills.

Councilmember Mark Levine is spearheading legislation to create an Office to Prevent Hate Crimes, which would coordinate myriad government agencies to improve the city’s response to hate crimes and increase outreach before they happen.

“The hatred that we’re here to denounce is a poison from which none of us are immune,” Levine, who represents parts of the Upper West Side and northern Manhattan, said at a press conference Dec. 4.

Under Levine’s bill, the Office of Hate Crime Prevention would coordinate efforts between the Human Rights Commission’s bias response teams and the Police Department and other entities, such as the Department of Education and the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit to address communities experiencing trauma.

Rather than create additional bureaucracy with an additional mayoral office, Levine argues that the office would further streamline response because of increased coordination through unified budget requests and avoidance of interagency turf wars.

A second proposal, led by Councilmember Chaim Deutsch, would require Levine’s proposed Office of Hate Crime Prevention to work with D.O.E. to create a K-12 curriculum addressing issues related to hate crimes.

“People don’t realize what the Jewish people went through during World War II,” Deutsch said, adding his parents are Holocaust survivors. “We need to make sure that our future generations are educated about such hate crimes.”

“We need to take preventive measures to educate the public on crime prevention tips,” said Deutsch, who represents parts of Brooklyn, including Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay. “We need to understand what the motives are here in New York City of those hate crimes.”

In the past few weeks alone, the city has seen a slew of hate incidents. A Bedford-Stuyvesant man vandalized a Prospect Heights synagogue and set fires at two Williamsburg Jewish sites. A Columbia University professor’s office space was found painted with swastikas and an anti-Semitic slur, the New York Times reported. And in a separate incident, a Columbia student went off on a racist tirade at people of color about how much he loves white men in a video that has since gone viral on Twitter. Racist vandalism at Lower Manhattan’s African Burial Ground Monument led to an arrest last month, Gothamist reported. In Queens, a man fractured a woman’s spine in a homophobic incident in which she was reportedly called a “dyke.”

These types of incidents have increased, according to Deutsch. There have been 331 hate crimes so far in 2018 — 17 more than in 2017, Deutsch said Dec. 4. Over half of these targeted Jewish people. There have also been 15 hate crimes involving assault, up from four last year, Deutsch said.

“This is very disturbing,” Deutsch said.

Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez emphasized the problem is a nationwide issue, and she will be re-introducing legislation to fund $50 million for hate crime prevention when the House reconvenes.

“We also need a change of tone in this nation,” Velásquez said. “Our leaders need to know that words have consequences.”

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