By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Community Board 6 hosted a panel on the prevention of hate crimes at the end of last month, shortly before the de Blasio administration announced that the newly-formed Office of Hate Crime Prevention will be opening sooner than anticipated.
Councilmember Mark Levine, who represents Northern Manhattan and sponsored the legislation to open the office, announced on Tuesday that the office would be opening this summer. It was originally scheduled to open in November.
“The epidemic of hate crimes sweeping across the country is a national crisis,” Levine said. “We have an obligation to guarantee the safety and security of every community that calls New York home.”
At the forum held at Baruch College on May 20, Levine thanked CB6’s Housing, Homeless and Human Rights committee for writing a resolution in support of the legislation regarding hate crimes prevention and education, the first board in the city to do so. CB6 adopted the resolution supporting the bill at the full board meeting in March.
“You were key in the passage of our legislation by being the first community board to pass a resolution to support,” Levine said of the committee and Community Board 6.
Levine said that the legislation was prompted by the steady increase in hate crimes beginning in 2015 and 2016, and Levine said that the increase appeared to correspond with the beginning of the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Levine also noted that New York in particular has seen an unusual spike in hate crimes.
“At a time when overall crime is down 6.7 percent, the category of hate crime is up 68 percent (in the first five months of 2019),” he said. “New Yorkers are being targeted because of the color of their skin, their gender, their perceived gender, sexual orientation, because of their faith, because of their age and so much more. There are Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and Jewish New Yorkers being targeted. The statistics are particularly scary on that front: the number of anti-Semitic hate crimes this year is up 82 percent.”
Levine explained that the problem should be addressed from multiple angles and not just through enforcement by the NYPD, and that education is an important component for decreasing hate crimes.
The panel included Audacia Ray, Director of Community Organizing and Public Advocacy at the NYC Anti-Violence Project, Michael Cohen from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, NYS Division of Human Rights Acting Commissioner Angela Fernandez, Assistant Commissioner for Community Relations at the NYC Commission on Human Rights Franck Joseph and Facing History School Assistant Principal Calee Prindle.
The panel focused on the best ways to address specific hate crimes when they happen in order to teach young students how to respond appropriately, as well as addressing questions about how to prevent biases and similar incidents.
Prindle, whose school focuses on teaching kids how to make ethical and moral decisions, said that as an educator, she concentrates on teaching students how to be responsible adults.
“Our first priority is to think about how we’re working everyday to make students who are understanding, empathetic and caring, and that has to be the first step,” she said. “In order to make other schools that way, I think my first step is thinking about who you’re partnering with. It’s thinking about, constantly, how are we continuing to get people to examine the choices they’re making and how are we supporting students in examining their own choices in order to create a more humane society.”
Mason, a student from the Baruch College Campus High School and a member of Community Board 1, attended the forum and told the panel about an incident of anti-Semitism in his school shortly after Donald Trump was elected president. After the incident, teachers in the school talked to students about it and held an assembly, but Mason wanted to know the best way to equip teachers in similar situations, and how the new office could address the long-term effects of hate crimes. Cohen, whose organization specifically aims to combat anti-Semitism and teach the lessons of the Holocaust, said that working with parents in addition to the students and teachers is an important component to education.
“I want them to discuss with us how we’re going to build a program together,” Cohen said. “You’ve got to start creating a different culture there and making them see that this is important and this is not going away. There is no easy fix. It’s an entire journey and we have to show (students) we’re with them the entire journey.”