By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Calling the statue of Brooklyn Dodgers immortal Jackie Robinson and teammate Pee Wee Reese “a symbol of racial tolerance and healing,” former comptroller Bill Thompson unveiled a three-point plan to combat hate crimes in the wake of the ugly graffiti incident involving the statue outside MCU Ballpark in Coney Island last week.
In a conference call with reporters on Aug. 12, Thompson, a Democratic mayoral candidate, said he was shocked by the racist and anti-Semitic graffiti a vandal left on the statue. The graffiti, which included a swastika and racist epithets, was discovered on Aug. 7 and has since been removed by cleaners. But the hate crime “shook our community and our city,” Thompson said. “This is unacceptable in the city I love,” he told reporters.
A $50,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the graffiti.
Thompson said that if he’s elected mayor, he would get to work right away combating hate crimes by using a multi-pronged strategy that included working with the city’s congressional delegation to get more funding from the US Department of Homeland Security to increase the number of surveillance cameras around sensitive locations such as houses of worship. His proposal also included plans to strengthen educational programs in schools to promote tolerance and prevent bullying.
The mayoral candidate said he would also encourage New Yorkers to call 911 to report incidents when they take place.
“We have to send a message that there is behavior that we will not tolerate,” said Thompson, the former president of the New York City Board of Education.
The educational component would include strengthening the curriculum in schools to have lessons on tolerance taught to children, according to Thompson. He said he the city should also partner with private organizations and have their representatives come into schools to talk about the importance of racial tolerance as well as anti-bullying programs. “It would be a combination of things,” he said, describing his plan.
The Aug. 7 hate crime was shocking in no small part because of the symbolism of the statue, Thompson said. The statue depicts the two Brooklyn Dodger teammates at a Cincinnati ballgame where Robinson, the first African-American to play major league baseball, was subjected to death threats and racial taunts. To show his solidarity, Reese, the team captain, put his arm around Robinson on the field. The gesture is captured by the statue.
Thompson was joined on the conference call by state Sen. Diane Savino (D-Coney Island-Bensonhurst-Staten Island), in whose district MCU Ballpark is located. Savino, who recently endorsed Thompson for mayor, said she agreed with his plan.
Something has to be done, she said, because in recent years, there has been “a tremendous rise in incidents” of racial and ethnic intolerance in the city, Savino said. She pointed to the recent desecration of statues outside churches in Bay Ridge as an example.
The Jackie Robinson statue graffiti was particularly shocking to Coney Island residents, according to Savino, who called the neighborhood “the epitome of a melting pot,” where residents of all races and nationalities live together in harmony. The swastikas were painful for the neighborhood’s Russian-Jewish residents, many of whom are Holocaust survivors, to see, the senator said.
The desecration of the famous statue is not an isolated incident, Thompson and Savino said. A recent Anti-Defamation League study found that anti-Semitic incidents in New York City and New York State increased substantially from 2011 to 2012. Across the state, the number of reported incidents increased from 195 in 2011 to 248 in 2012, and in the city from 127 to 172 during the same period.
It’s unclear why the incidents of hate crimes are increasing. It might have something to do with the Internet, Savino said. “Hate has always been in our society. But we’ve living in an age where people are increasingly hiding behind anonymity on the Internet. It’s the Internet Age,” she said. People can leave hurtful comments on a website without having to identify themselves, she added.
Thompson said the key to combating hate is to constantly reinforce the message that it will not be tolerated by society as a whole.