Testimony Delivered Before the Committee on Public Safety

Deborah Lauter, Executive Director for the Prevention of Hate Crimes - February 10, 2020


Mayor’s Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes
Committee on Public Safety

February 10, 2020

Good afternoon, Chair Richards and members of the Public Safety Committee. I am Deborah Lauter, Executive Director of the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes (OPHC). On behalf of OPHC, which is a unit in the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice, we thank you for the opportunity to testify regarding Intro. No. 1847-2020, relating to responses to violent hate crimes.

Let me begin by saying that hate has no place in New York City, a city celebrated for its diversity. And no New Yorker should ever feel targeted or unsafe because of the race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. I want to thank the Council for its leadership in creating the OPHC and for your input and support since its inception. While of course it is expected that our elected leaders condemn hate crimes after they occur, you have taken action to do something greater — to enable a tangible effort that will prevent hate from taking hold in the first place. Our city’s holistic approach is the first of kind in the country and I can share that it has received very positive support not just from New Yorkers, but from across the nation and indeed, from around the world. Many are looking to this initiative as a model to address the disturbing widespread rise in hate incidents.

Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes (OPHC)
At this time last year, the New York City Council passed legislation to create an Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes – the very legislation that is under consideration for amendment today. That legislation provided that the new office should be open by November. Mayor de Blasio, concerned about the continuing rise in hate crimes, escalated launching the office, which was announced with my appointment on September 3, 2019.

I am pleased to report that in just five short months, we have accomplished much, including completing the administrative work of opening a new office – we are now fully staffed with seven full-time employees.

Strategies and Initiatives
One of my priorities over these first months has been to engage deeply with different communities across the city, particularly those who are vulnerable to bias incidents and hate crimes. I have spoken at over 50 meetings in all five boroughs and have solicited input from dozens of leaders from religious, education, and community based organizations, as well as academic institutions and think tanks. This has helped me identify areas where City government could take a more active role convening stakeholders and augmenting and innovating new tools. In these meetings and town halls I have heard the voices of concern, of frustration, of fear — but also of optimism, energy and resolve to engage in what many of us see as not just the fight against hate, but the fight for the soul of civility and the right to respect.

These first months have necessitated particular attention to the Jewish community because of the increase in hate crimes motivated by anti-Semitism, particularly targeting the religious Jewish communities in Brooklyn, and in the wake of the horrific attacks in the neighboring Jewish communities in Jersey City and Monsey, NY.

At the same time, the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes has also been dedicated to addressing the unique issues and concerns of other communities that are vulnerable to bias incidents. The LGBTQ community experienced the second highest increase in hate crimes last year, including violent assaults and we have been at their side speaking out and working with them to address strategies to combat this disturbing trend. We have engaged with leaders in the Muslim, Sikh, Asian, Hispanic, Black, immigrant, as well as LGBTQ communities who report that their constituents, too, are experiencing an upsurge in bias-motivated incidents and hate crimes, yet most of these incidents are going unreported.

One of the goals of the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes to address this problem of under-reporting, not only so that we can show support and get help for victims, but also so we can fully understand the scope of the problem and recommend strategies and resources to address it. Much of this work is being done through our management of the Hate Violence Prevention Initiative (HVPI) which City Council funded through discretionary grants. Participating organizations include the Arab American Association of New York (AANYC), the Center for Law & Social Justice at Medgar Evers, Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM), the Center for Anti- Violence Education (CAVE), Project Witness, New York Anti-Violence Project (AVP), the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), and United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg (UJO) and the Jewish Children’s Museum. We have been overseeing those contracts and convening the full cohort of 15 participating organizations. With Council support, our office has empowered and enabled them to share their challenges and their best practices with others who are engaged in grassroots efforts.

As part of our mandate under the legislation to perform a coordinating role for the City, OPHC has also formed an Interagency Committee for the Prevention of Hate Crimes (IAC), and convened eleven city agencies and the City’s five District Attorney offices, all of whom are stakeholders in preventing and addressing hate violence. By bringing them together with an intentional focus on addressing hate crimes, the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes is breaking down silos and engaging educators, first responders, victim service providers, restorative justice advocates, and other subject matter experts. Interagency Committee representatives are sharing information about current programs, resources, and best practices and engaging together in creative thinking and recommendations that will have long-term impact.

I have dedicated almost three decades of my civil rights and human relations career to combating stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination, hate and extremism at the state, national and global levels. I am gratified that I can now focus my skills and expertise to benefit New York City. What I

have shared with city agencies, community organizations, elected officials, media and others is that there is not one way to fight hate. It requires a multi-pronged approach. And so I have set forth a three-pillar strategy for the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes, focused on education, community relations, and law enforcement.

I am pleased to report that we are already making significant progress with respect to our education mandate. In December, we partnered with the Department of Education to create resources on promoting respect and addressing hate crimes and Chancellor Carranza sent them to 150,000 educators in the system, urging them to have conversations with their students about the rise in hate crimes and making clear that anti-Semitism, racism and all forms of hate and bigotry will not be tolerated in our school system. We also helped facilitate a partnership between the DOE and the Museum of Jewish Heritage to provide an opportunity for 14,000 students from Brooklyn to tour the Museum’s exhibit, Auschwitz. Not Long Ago, Not Far Away, with families of students 12 and over to receive free tickets to the Museum. This initiative will educate students and their families about the consequences of hate through powerful images and survivors’ stories. We have also been working with the DOE to develop new curriculum resources on hate crimes which will be introduced and available to teachers city-wide in the 2020-21 school year.

Community Relations
With respect to community relations, in addition to our work with the HVPI, at the end of December the Mayor announced a new initiative: the formation of Neighborhood Safety Coalitions. These coalitions, consisting of leaders from community-based organizations, houses of worship, civic associations, tenant associations, community boards, businesses, and community school districts, will address neighborhood safety issues with an intentional focus on preventative measures and programs that will have long-term impact. Neighbors will come together to break down stereotypes and build healthy relationships that foster safety and social cohesion.

Last week, the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes hosted a joint inaugural meeting of the three coalitions, made up of leaders from the greater Borough Park area, Crown Heights and the Williamsburg/Bed Stuy communities. The theme of “CORE Values NYC” guides their efforts to create action plans and programs, with the “CORE” acronym standing for Community Of Respect for Everyone.

Last week I had the privilege to participate in a remarkable program that was organized by Community School District 14 Superintendent, Alicja Winnicki, in Williamsburg. Rabbi David Niederman of the UJO and I engaged in a thoughtful, powerful discussion with student leaders and then a school walk with the superintendent, principal, CEC members, student advisors, and students from neighborhood schools. This program has also been done successfully by Rabbi Eli Cohen from the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council in partnership with Geoffrey Davis, Director of the Stop Violence Foundation. We are now looking to expand this model across the Neighborhood Safety Coalition communities, with the enthusiastic support of the Community

School District Superintendents of District 17-Crown Heights, and District 20-Borough Park, who are both members of their respective Neighborhood Safety Coalitions.

To further advance community education, the Office is overseeing the development of new advertising and social media campaigns to confront prejudice, encourage mutual respect, and empower anyone who is a victim of a hate crime to come forward and report it.

Law Enforcement
And last, but not least, law enforcement. I am proud to sit here alongside the NYPD, who have been vital partners not just in responding to hate crimes, but in seeking ways to address preventative solutions. Commissioner Shea’s presence at so many community meetings and the tone he has set for the whole department to take seriously and address the increase in hate crimes has been exemplary. We believe his commitment to community policing, initiatives focused on youth, as well as the new intelligence unit to address racially and ethnically motivated extremism, are all critically important measures. We also were extremely pleased to see the Commissioner’s positive response to the Council’s request to include hate crimes statistics in CompStat, which we believe is a significant step in heightening awareness and improving response to hate violence. I also want to commend and thank Deputy Inspector Mark Molinari who heads up the NYPD Hate Crime Task Force as he has been especially helpful in providing guidance and partnership to the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes as we have gotten off the ground.

Intro. No. 1847-2020
When a hate crime is committed, there is an urgent desire — particularly among those who share the victim’s identity — to know what has happened, what steps are being taken to respond, and what the outcomes will be. Our elected officials also are eager for information about hate crime incidents to better respond to the inquiries and needs of their constituents. The Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes recognizes the importance of this “need to know” embodied in Intro. 1847-2020 today, and supports the intent of these amendments. We are currently exploring effective, responsible methods of notification that preserve the integrity of an investigation and, at the same time, provides assurance to all parties that an incident is being handled appropriately.

We want to thank the Committee again for convening this hearing today and to express our appreciation for the tremendous support demonstrated by leaders at every level of government and by organizations and individuals all over our city. We support the goals of this amendment and are committed to working with the Council on how to operationalize this bill and uplift communities so that all New Yorkers and visitors feel welcome and safe.

Thank you for your attention. I welcome your questions.