Legislation would make certain types of graffiti hate crimes
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A package of bills passed by the state senate this week will help in the fight against hate crimes in New York, according to members of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), who introduced the legislation in the wake of shocking anti-Semitic crimes in the U.S. that included cemetery desecrations and bomb threats against Jewish community centers.
On Wednesday, the Republican-led state Senate voted to approve the Religious Freedom Package, a series of bills sponsored by members of the IDC. Jesse Hamilton and Diane Savino, state senators representing parts of Brooklyn, are IDC members.
Hamilton (D-Crown Heights-Park Slope-Sunset Park) said legislative action was necessary due to a troubling increase in hate crimes in New York City in recent months.
“With the NYPD reporting that hate crimes overall are up 55 percent so far this year and anti-Semitic hate crimes up a staggering 94 percent, the passage of this Religious Freedom Package sends a timely message,” Hamilton said in a statement.
On Thursday, Gov, Andrew Cuomo made a surprise visit to the Jewish Children’s Museum in Crown Heights to show his support for the Jewish community following a bomb threat the museum received at approximately 9:30 a.m. The museum, located on 792 Eastern Parkway, had to be evacuated after the bomb threat.
“This is a museum that works tirelessly to build bonds of understanding across our neighborhood,” said Hamilton, who added that the “hateful act” demonstrated the need for legislation like the Religious Freedom Package.
Among the provisions in the Religious Freedom Package:
The creation of a specified offense for graffiti making as a hate crime and increase penalties for bias-related graffiti and graffiti on religious property.
Prohibiting discrimination against religious attire.
Heighten penalties for damaging property in a house of worship or desecrating a cemetery.
Prohibiting funding to college groups that participate in boycotts of Israel.
“Vandalism, destruction of property and threats of violence against an individual based on their heritage is one of the most reprehensible acts one can carry out,” Savino (D-Coney Island-parts of Bensonhurst) said in a statement prior to the passage of the Religious Freedom Package.
Jewish community centers in New York have received bomb threats, according to law enforcement authorities. There have been more than 100 anti-Semitic incidents in 33 states since the beginning of the year.
In addition, two Jewish cemeteries, one in St. Louis and another in Philadelphia, were targeted by vandals who callously overturned headstones.
On March 3, police arrested a suspect, Juan M. Thompson, 31, in connection with bomb threats made against eight Jewish institutions around the country. Thompson was taken into custody in St. Louis.
Law enforcement authorities are still searching for suspects involved in the other bomb threat incidents.
IDC Chairman state Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx-Westchester), who is the grandson of Holocaust survivors, called the increase in hate crimes deeply disturbing.
The passage of the Religious Freedom Package “will send a strong message that these crimes are taken seriously in New York,” Klein said.