By Akosua K. Albritton
Is it lingering anger from September 11, 2001, or is it Old Jim Crow? Is the pressure cooker bombing in Chelsea still unnerving or is it the imagery that Donald Trump drew up during his US Presidential campaign? Hate crimes that are civil and criminal offenses are occurring in Brooklyn.
St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf was the venue for Civil & Human Rights Speak Out: Responding to Hate on December 14, 2016. St. Senator Jesse Hamilton organized the event because he is “aware that there are people who don’t know that they can do something about being called a derogatory name or having their scarves pulled off their heads”. National Action Network’s Kirsten Foy served as moderator for the panel discussion and comments from the community. Attending agencies and community organizations included NYS Office of New Americans (ONA), NYC Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the New Yrk Police Department Hate Crimes Unit (NYPD), NYS Office of the Attorney General (OAG), Anti-Defamation League (ADL), American Jewish Committee (AJC), New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) and the Center for Anti-violence Education (CAE).
Each panel member explained the organization that they represented and how the agency responded to hate incidents. Assistant Attorney General Diane Lucas said, “The Civil Rights Bureau investigates and prosecutes ‘patterns’ of discrimination for New Yorkers and will prosecute on behalf of the people of the State of New York”. The OAG, therefore, focuses on routing out systemic discrimination.
Rachelle Dickerson, External Relations Director for ONA, said that her “office enforces equality in housing, employment, business opportunity, education and public accommodations for newcomers to America [residing in New York]”.
CHR’s Hamilton Lee of the Law Enforcement Bureau told the audience that the “Commission on Human Rights deals with discriminatory harassment. Discriminatory harassment entails threats, intimidations, harassment, coercion or violence that interferes with a person’s civil or constitutional rights”. The audience was advised to call 311 when they believe they have experienced discriminatory harassment.
NYPD Hate Crimes Unit’s Charles Senat described the unit as one “performing criminal investigations and apprehension” of perpetrators of violent hate crimes on people and property due to race, gender, ethnicity or gender identification bias. The Hate Crimes Unit was established in November by Governor Cuomo due to the spike in such crimes since Donald Trump’s election.
ADL’s Community Service & Policy Director Etzion Neuer said the “ADL responds to all forms of hate by educating the public about biases and civil and criminal hate crimes”. Neuer pointed out that the “ADL protects Jewish people and others. This organization has brought together 20 Muslim and 20 Jewish leaders to develop a domestic policy agenda on discrimination”.
Eric Post, Assistant Director for the local AJC, explained that the “AJC is the global advocate for the well-being of the Jewish people and Israel, and for the advancement of democratic values around the world. Our unique access to world leaders who influence policy and world opinion enables us to pursue positive outcomes”.
Jenny DeBower, CAE’s Programs and Evaluation Director, described the center as “a place to learn physical and emotional self-defense for women, girls and LGBT”. DeBower has observed “more attacks on LGBT, Muslim and women after Trump’s election”. DeBower welcomed people to join the organization, particularly those “who want to own up to their privilege, whether it is being white or heterosexual”. To demonstrate the need for peace or resolution services, DeBower said the “CAE has a waiting list of approximately 10,000 people”.
NYIC Legal Initiative Associate Hallam Tuck said, “The mission of the New York Immigration Coalition is to achieve a fairer and more just society that values the contributions of immigrants and extends opportunity to all. The NYIC promotes immigrants’ full civic participation, fosters their leadership and provides a unified voice and a vehicle for collective action for New York’s diverse immigrant communities”.
In review of the panel membership and their opening statements, one may see an effort to bring nonprofit and government agencies that deal with criminal activity perpetrated on people and property as well as civil indignities meant to demean or harass. Kirsten Foy asked, “Who should be called first to clarify civil and criminal aspects of hate crimes? P.O. Senat replied: “If an emergency, call 911 so that the police can respond.” Foy followed with another clarifying question: “What is considered a hate crime?” CHR’s Hamilton Lee said, “It can be a derogatory word said or the desecration of a site”. In this case dialing 311 is appropriate.
Other aspects of formal responses to hate crimes are who is being represented in a court of law and how discrimination is being carried out. ONA’s Rachelle Dickerson explained that “discrimination can be overt and covert”. The NYS Office of New Americans is noticing disability offenses in that veterans are not able to get housing and other accommodations.
Assistant AG Diane Lucas explained that her office “does not investigate for individuals. Rather, we are looking for discrimination based on a group which is made known by individual complaints”.
There were more than 40 people in the audience. Keith Brooks, President of the Georgetown Civic Association, asked, “How can we make a statement that hate crimes aren’t acceptable in New York State?” The response was that the governor has a task force established that advances hate crimes are not acceptable in this state.
A young woman of color who wished to be unnamed expressed the need for organizations that deal with hate crimes before they are executed. She wanted the organizations named. The response was there were many in existence throughout the five boroughs. The New York Immigration Coalition and the Center for Anti-violence Education were present and named. Also represented at this event were the National Action Network and Anti-Defamation League.
The event closed with a call to action by Raul Rothblatt, Chair of Senator Hamilton’s Civil Rights Task Force. Rothblatt encouraged meeting attendants to keep up the momentum by joining this civil rights task force.