Long Islanders rally against antisemitism in Montauk in October after hateful graffiti...

Long Islanders rally against antisemitism in Montauk in October after hateful graffiti was found in the community. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

When spray-painted swastikas appeared last fall on businesses and in public places in Montauk, residents, elected officials and religious leaders condemned what they saw as an attack on their community.

Within weeks, East Hampton Town and Suffolk County police, along with investigators from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, had a suspect under surveillance. In early December, the district attorney charged him with criminal mischief as a hate crime and aggravated harassment, both felonies, along with 10 misdemeanor counts of making graffiti.

“We surveilled this guy 24-7,” Suffolk District Attorney Ray Tierney said. “Given what was going on in the world, we thought it was important we use every resource at our disposal … It’s a very unsettling crime, not only to the group attacked, but to the community at large.”

The Montauk case and others came amid a nationwide rise in crimes motivated by bias against race, religion and other categories of identity. It also highlighted the ripple effects in this region of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, which led to spiking antisemitism and emotionally charged debates about free speech and acceptable behavior. 

But if the Montauk case is a success story for Long Island law enforcement’s crackdown on hate — the case has yet to be adjudicated — it appears to be relatively rare, one of just two hate crime prosecutions by Tierney's office over the past calendar year. 

In interviews, police and prosecutors said they investigate all tips that come their way but face challenges in charging and prosecuting. That’s partly because New York's hate crime laws require police and prosecutors to do more than prove that a hateful act took place. Prosecutors also have to prove bias was a substantial motivation.

Anti-hate advocates say the way police keep track of hate crimes doesn't always reflect the actual number of hateful acts going on in Long Island communities. They say that discrepancy is partly due to how crimes are categorized and also may reflect doubt over whether reporting a hate crime will lead to a resolution.

A second prominent hate crime case involved two men charged with assaulting a same-sex couple in Patchogue. One of the men pleaded guilty last fall to assault as a hate crime, a felony, and to aggravated harassment. The judge in the case has said he will sentence him to probation, according to the district attorney’s office. He has not been sentenced yet, according to court records.  

“We were disappointed,” said Allen Bode, Suffolk's chief assistant district attorney. “We think a sentence of jail would have sent a message.”

The other man pleaded not guilty to criminal mischief and assault as hate crimes, both felonies, and aggravated harassment as a misdemeanor. The case is pending.

In Nassau, District Attorney Anne Donnelly said her office's Hate Crimes Unit opened investigations on nine cases last year, roughly the same number as in previous years. Six cases were resolved with guilty pleas to misdemeanors or violations, Donnelly said.

Because of the difficulty in proving hateful intent, prosecutors often bring hate crime charges in conjunction with a charge on an underlying offense that doesn't need that proof.

“If we can prove that motivation was based on hate, we're going to charge it and we're going to prosecute it,” Donnelly said. “If we can’t get to that point, we still make sure the judge knows what was being said or what was happening, so they're fully aware when they go to sentence this person what the circumstances surrounding the crime were.”

Police accountability advocates cautioned that hate crime numbers reported by authorities may understate the true extent of such crimes on Long Island. Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice said Suffolk needed to explain why its numbers showed a yearslong decline in hate crimes even as national rates rose.

New York State defines a hate crime as one that targets a person, group or property because of bias against a list of “protected” characteristics including race, religion or sexual orientation. The state’s Hate Crimes Act steps up penalties for certain specified offenses when they are found to be motivated by bias. There are dozens of such offenses, ranging from assault to criminal possession of a chemical or biological weapon. 

Nationwide, hate crime statistics from the FBI for 2022, the latest available year, showed 13,377 offenses, a nearly 8% jump from 2021.

State lawmakers have responded to the increase with proposed legislation that would make dozens more offenses, including making graffiti, eligible for prosecution as hate crimes. 

The latest New York State data shows that on Long Island for 2022, Nassau departments reported 61 hate crime incidents, up from 28 the year before, while Suffolk police departments reported 28, unchanged from the year before.

The Suffolk County Police Department, which investigates almost all hate crimes in the county, reported investigating 16 hate crimes and 87 bias incidents in 2023. The counties define hate incidents as cases, criminal or not, which involve a hate motivation but are not an offense specified under the state hate crime law. Last year, Nassau police reported investigating 74 hate crimes and bias incidents. 

Nationally in 2022, as many as 10% of all reported hate crime offenses occurred in schools, and from 2018 to 2022, school was the third-most common location for a reported hate crime offense to occur, according to an FBI report released last month.

Suffolk police reported it investigated no hate crimes but 23 hate incidents in schools in 2023. 

Under the 2010 Dignity for All Students Act, school districts in New York also report incidents of discrimination, harassment and bullying to the state Education Department. For the 2021-22 school year, the latest year for which statewide data was available, Suffolk schools reported 1,038 such incidents and Nassau schools reported 749. 

Farmingdale's Weldon E. Howitt Middle School, in Nassau County, reported 47 incidents in 2021-22, the highest for Long Island public schools. In an emailed statement, Superintendent Paul Defendini said the school's reported incidents had dropped to 11 in 2022-23. He attributed the uptick in incidents to stresses related to the COVID pandemic and said educators had responded by increasing “services in all mental health areas of our schools, including hiring support staff personnel and investing in restorative systems and services used to support our students and their families.”

In some cases, such as those where school officials discipline offenders, it may be possible to send a message of deterrence without prosecution, said Rick Lewis, CEO of the Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center in Plainview.

“Maybe they’re not getting prosecuted by the law, but there’s nothing wrong with the entire student body knowing what they did,” Lewis said.

Suffolk police did not break down the school incident data it shared with Newsday by bias motivation, but it did share that information for the broader category of hate incidents. Of 87 reported incidents across the county last year, 46 targeted Jews, 17 Black people and 17 multiracial groups. Seven incidents had various other bias motivations. There were too few reported hate crimes to discern patterns.

In Nassau, of 74 bias incidents and hate crimes investigated by the department last year, 45 were classed as anti-Jewish, 15 were anti-Black and the remainder had other bias motivations. 

Suffolk police investigate these matters with a special Hate Crimes Unit, normally composed of four detectives under a commanding officer, now down a detective because of a recent retirement. Tierney’s office has its own team of prosecutors who specialize in hate crimes, and the office plans to hire a community relations assistant in the coming months to build ties with communities that may be targeted by hate crimes.

Nassau police has a bias crime coordinator but no special unit, relying instead on the department's regular detectives.

“They know the area, they know the people, they know who does and doesn't belong, and they know where the cameras are,” said Det. Sgt. Sabrina Gregg, the coordinator.

Building a hate crime case can be difficult, experts say.

In Nassau, last year's 74 investigations yielded 12 arrests, Gregg said. For the other cases, “Someone did not request an arrest, there wasn't a level of accountability or all leads were exhausted,” Gregg said. “I'm a cop and I want bad people to go to jail. But if you're a victim, and you have feelings about what healing and justice looks like, it doesn't necessarily mean that you request an arrest.”

Some people are ashamed. Some may want nothing more than “to be heard” by filing a report, Gregg said.

When it comes to building a prosecutable case, intent may seem obvious in instances where a slur or hateful symbol is used in connection with a possible hate crime. “But we’re dealing with criminal law, where statutes are interpreted narrowly, and you need proof — not intuition but proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Fred Klein, visiting assistant professor of law at Hofstra University and the former chief of the Nassau County District Attorney's Major Offense bureau.

The mere presence of a hate symbol in a park or public school might not convince a judge or jury that there was an intended victim, he said. And proving a defendant understands the significance of the symbol can be difficult, he said.

“You’ve got things like mental illness and addiction, which could impact their intent. You’ve got someone who’s mentally ill and God’s telling him to do this,” Klein said.

Flat-out ignorance also can be a problem in proving intent. In the case of a swastika, for instance, “You can’t just assume that everybody knows about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust,” Klein added.

Showing a perpetrator's state of mind is difficult but not impossible, Tierney said. 

“Maybe you go on social media, you see this person evincing hateful ideation for a particular individual, a particular group,” he said. “That's now evidence there was a hateful motive for perpetration of the crime. You go to witnesses.”

However, authorities said, building a case around one of the most common types of hate incidents — graffiti — is often harder than the public may realize.

In some cases, building a case by finding witnesses and identifying perpetrators can be next to impossible, Tierney said.

“One of the toughest things to prosecute is where one person, in cover of night, writes something on a wall when no one’s around, then leaves,” he said.

In addition, Donnelly said, law enforcement won't crack down on hateful speech if it is expressed within a legal venue, such as a nonviolent march in which the organizers obtain a permit to express their views.

“Hate speech is not necessarily criminal speech,” she said. “That's your First Amendment right, to say hateful things.” 

Finally, authorities face a basic problem of limited resources, Klein said. “Are you going to take away homicide prosecutors to prosecute vandalism in the park?”

Police accountability advocates say the official numbers may not present an accurate picture of hate crimes on Long Island.

“There is a real question about the accuracy of numbers that are reported, and that’s consistently been an issue for accountability groups,” said Frederick K. Brewington, a Hempstead civil rights lawyer.

Department of Justice officials monitor Suffolk police under a 2014 settlement following the 2008 death of an Ecuadorian man, Marcelo Lucero, after an attack by seven teens and the revelation that police had ignored or done little to follow up on reports by dozens of other Latinos who said they’d been targeted.

Justice officials wrote in a January 2023 letter that Suffolk police should explain why its numbers were dropping “as it is unclear why Suffolk County would be an outlier from other parts of the state or country,” though they found that the department was in substantial compliance with the settlement agreement. 

A Department of Justice spokeswoman declined to comment.

Det. Sgt. Nancy Quattrociocchi, commander of Suffolk’s Hate Crimes Unit, said her unit followed up every tip about possible hate offenses and that the drop in hate crime numbers could be attributed to changes in how the department recorded these crimes and incidents. Starting in 2015, she said, the department has been more specific about differentiating hate crimes from hate incidents.

But Brewington and other advocates said that some of what Suffolk police reports as hate incidents should be charged as hate crimes. 

For example, they said swastika graffiti should be charged and reported as criminal mischief, one of the offenses listed in the Hate Crimes Act. With 32 graffiti hate incidents last year, that single change would triple the number of Suffolk's reported hate crimes.

“It looks like hardly anything is happening in Suffolk, but that’s totally not true,” said Helen Boxwill, co-chair of Huntington Town’s Anti-Bias Task Force. And, she said, the distinction between crimes and incidents obscured an important fact: “No matter what you call it, people are being hurt.”

Brewington said authorities ignored some cases that should have been charged as hate crimes. He cited the 2021 case of a client, Kyrin Taylor, a Black electrician who said he found a noose in his Farmingdale workplace that year. Taylor sued the company where he worked, the owner and two employees who allegedly displayed the noose. Taylor “called the police and the people who hung the noose admitted doing it,” Brewington said. 

Authorities, he said, “never arrested the individuals, never prosecuted, never presented the case to a grand jury.” 

Quattrociocchi said the case was “fully investigated” by a veteran detective and, after consultation with the DA's office, “The decision was made that it wasn't a hate crime.”

Brewington said the civil case settled but that he was unable to disclose the terms. 

With regard to handling graffiti as a hate crime, Quattrocicchi said: “You have to have someone who’s victimized. You have to have someone who comes forward … I’m not minimizing it, but when you’re just drawing a swastika on a bathroom stall and you don’t have a victim, you don’t have a hate crime.”

Cultural and language barriers also might play a role in depressing the reporting of these crimes to police, experts said. 

“You have someone who’s had a bad experience with police in their country, or are undocumented, or fear having contact with police,” said Cheryl Keshner, founder and coordinator of the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition and part of a group that met with Justice Department officials during the federal monitoring of the Suffolk police department.

Tim Sini, Tierney's predecessor as Suffolk district attorney, said authorities needed to do more than enforcement to overcome those fears.

“People need to be reporting the incidents, and they're not going to report unless they know and trust law enforcement,” he said. “When you're talking about hate crimes, that's particularly important because often those victimized are marginalized and may have some distrust of law enforcement.”

Using “community ambassadors” like pastors, organizers and business owners is a common strategy, Sini said. 

The Suffolk police Hate Crimes Unit has added a detective who speaks Spanish, a department spokeswoman said in an email on Feb. 4. It's the language 218,695 Suffolk residents speak at home, according to the census. Further, Quattrociocchi said non-Spanish speaking detectives have not been hampered because they use department translators. Both she and Tierney said they have made strides in outreach, bolstering ties with town anti-bias task forces, and Suffolk police last year opened a hate crimes hotline to make it easier for victims to report crimes. 

Lewis, of the Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center, said he feared skepticism of law enforcement’s work could backfire.

“We shouldn’t be focusing on lack of prosecution, because then we send the message that it’s not worth reporting,” he said. “What would be scary to me is if someone saw something that needed to be reported and drove away because they didn’t think it was worth their time.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of Spanish-speaking detectives in the Suffolk police Hate Crimes Unit.

When spray-painted swastikas appeared last fall on businesses and in public places in Montauk, residents, elected officials and religious leaders condemned what they saw as an attack on their community.

Within weeks, East Hampton Town and Suffolk County police, along with investigators from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, had a suspect under surveillance. In early December, the district attorney charged him with criminal mischief as a hate crime and aggravated harassment, both felonies, along with 10 misdemeanor counts of making graffiti.

“We surveilled this guy 24-7,” Suffolk District Attorney Ray Tierney said. “Given what was going on in the world, we thought it was important we use every resource at our disposal … It’s a very unsettling crime, not only to the group attacked, but to the community at large.”

Rabbi Josh Franklin of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, left,...

Rabbi Josh Franklin of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, left, and Scott Pitches of Montauk clean antisemitic graffiti off the Naturally Good Foods & Cafe in Montauk in October. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

The Montauk case and others came amid a nationwide rise in crimes motivated by bias against race, religion and other categories of identity. It also highlighted the ripple effects in this region of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, which led to spiking antisemitism and emotionally charged debates about free speech and acceptable behavior. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Amid a nationwide rise in reported hate crimes and related bias incidents, Long Island law enforcement authorities say they are acting to dissuade the behavior and punish perpetrators.
  • Relatively few reported hate crimes on Long Island may understate the true extent of hate activity here, say police reform advocates skeptical of the official numbers.
  • New York’s hate crime law can bring heavy penalties, but building a case is often challenging.

But if the Montauk case is a success story for Long Island law enforcement’s crackdown on hate — the case has yet to be adjudicated — it appears to be relatively rare, one of just two hate crime prosecutions by Tierney's office over the past calendar year. 

In interviews, police and prosecutors said they investigate all tips that come their way but face challenges in charging and prosecuting. That’s partly because New York's hate crime laws require police and prosecutors to do more than prove that a hateful act took place. Prosecutors also have to prove bias was a substantial motivation.

Anti-hate advocates say the way police keep track of hate crimes doesn't always reflect the actual number of hateful acts going on in Long Island communities. They say that discrepancy is partly due to how crimes are categorized and also may reflect doubt over whether reporting a hate crime will lead to a resolution.

A second prominent hate crime case involved two men charged with assaulting a same-sex couple in Patchogue. One of the men pleaded guilty last fall to assault as a hate crime, a felony, and to aggravated harassment. The judge in the case has said he will sentence him to probation, according to the district attorney’s office. He has not been sentenced yet, according to court records.  

“We were disappointed,” said Allen Bode, Suffolk's chief assistant district attorney. “We think a sentence of jail would have sent a message.”

The other man pleaded not guilty to criminal mischief and assault as hate crimes, both felonies, and aggravated harassment as a misdemeanor. The case is pending.

In Nassau, District Attorney Anne Donnelly said her office's Hate Crimes Unit opened investigations on nine cases last year, roughly the same number as in previous years. Six cases were resolved with guilty pleas to misdemeanors or violations, Donnelly said.

Hate crime: Targets person, group, or property because of bias against a “protected” characteristic like race, religion or sexual orientation. Penalties for certain offenses are stepped up when found to be motivated by bias.

Because of the difficulty in proving hateful intent, prosecutors often bring hate crime charges in conjunction with a charge on an underlying offense that doesn't need that proof.

“If we can prove that motivation was based on hate, we're going to charge it and we're going to prosecute it,” Donnelly said. “If we can’t get to that point, we still make sure the judge knows what was being said or what was happening, so they're fully aware when they go to sentence this person what the circumstances surrounding the crime were.”

Police accountability advocates cautioned that hate crime numbers reported by authorities may understate the true extent of such crimes on Long Island. Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice said Suffolk needed to explain why its numbers showed a yearslong decline in hate crimes even as national rates rose.

New York State defines a hate crime as one that targets a person, group or property because of bias against a list of “protected” characteristics including race, religion or sexual orientation. The state’s Hate Crimes Act steps up penalties for certain specified offenses when they are found to be motivated by bias. There are dozens of such offenses, ranging from assault to criminal possession of a chemical or biological weapon. 

Nationwide, hate crime statistics from the FBI for 2022, the latest available year, showed 13,377 offenses, a nearly 8% jump from 2021.

State lawmakers have responded to the increase with proposed legislation that would make dozens more offenses, including making graffiti, eligible for prosecution as hate crimes. 

The latest New York State data shows that on Long Island for 2022, Nassau departments reported 61 hate crime incidents, up from 28 the year before, while Suffolk police departments reported 28, unchanged from the year before.

The Suffolk County Police Department, which investigates almost all hate crimes in the county, reported investigating 16 hate crimes and 87 bias incidents in 2023. The counties define hate incidents as cases, criminal or not, which involve a hate motivation but are not an offense specified under the state hate crime law. Last year, Nassau police reported investigating 74 hate crimes and bias incidents. 

Nationally in 2022, as many as 10% of all reported hate crime offenses occurred in schools, and from 2018 to 2022, school was the third-most common location for a reported hate crime offense to occur, according to an FBI report released last month.

Suffolk police reported it investigated no hate crimes but 23 hate incidents in schools in 2023. 

Under the 2010 Dignity for All Students Act, school districts in New York also report incidents of discrimination, harassment and bullying to the state Education Department. For the 2021-22 school year, the latest year for which statewide data was available, Suffolk schools reported 1,038 such incidents and Nassau schools reported 749. 

Farmingdale's Weldon E. Howitt Middle School, in Nassau County, reported 47 incidents in 2021-22, the highest for Long Island public schools. In an emailed statement, Superintendent Paul Defendini said the school's reported incidents had dropped to 11 in 2022-23. He attributed the uptick in incidents to stresses related to the COVID pandemic and said educators had responded by increasing “services in all mental health areas of our schools, including hiring support staff personnel and investing in restorative systems and services used to support our students and their families.”

In some cases, such as those where school officials discipline offenders, it may be possible to send a message of deterrence without prosecution, said Rick Lewis, CEO of the Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center in Plainview.

“Maybe they’re not getting prosecuted by the law, but there’s nothing wrong with the entire student body knowing what they did,” Lewis said.

Suffolk police did not break down the school incident data it shared with Newsday by bias motivation, but it did share that information for the broader category of hate incidents. Of 87 reported incidents across the county last year, 46 targeted Jews, 17 Black people and 17 multiracial groups. Seven incidents had various other bias motivations. There were too few reported hate crimes to discern patterns.

In Nassau, of 74 bias incidents and hate crimes investigated by the department last year, 45 were classed as anti-Jewish, 15 were anti-Black and the remainder had other bias motivations. 

Suffolk police investigate these matters with a special Hate Crimes Unit, normally composed of four detectives under a commanding officer, now down a detective because of a recent retirement. Tierney’s office has its own team of prosecutors who specialize in hate crimes, and the office plans to hire a community relations assistant in the coming months to build ties with communities that may be targeted by hate crimes.

Nassau police has a bias crime coordinator but no special unit, relying instead on the department's regular detectives.

“They know the area, they know the people, they know who does and doesn't belong, and they know where the cameras are,” said Det. Sgt. Sabrina Gregg, the coordinator.

Challenges of prosecuting hate crimes

Building a hate crime case can be difficult, experts say.

In Nassau, last year's 74 investigations yielded 12 arrests, Gregg said. For the other cases, “Someone did not request an arrest, there wasn't a level of accountability or all leads were exhausted,” Gregg said. “I'm a cop and I want bad people to go to jail. But if you're a victim, and you have feelings about what healing and justice looks like, it doesn't necessarily mean that you request an arrest.”

Some people are ashamed. Some may want nothing more than “to be heard” by filing a report, Gregg said.

When it comes to building a prosecutable case, intent may seem obvious in instances where a slur or hateful symbol is used in connection with a possible hate crime. “But we’re dealing with criminal law, where statutes are interpreted narrowly, and you need proof — not intuition but proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Fred Klein, visiting assistant professor of law at Hofstra University and the former chief of the Nassau County District Attorney's Major Offense bureau.

The mere presence of a hate symbol in a park or public school might not convince a judge or jury that there was an intended victim, he said. And proving a defendant understands the significance of the symbol can be difficult, he said.

“You’ve got things like mental illness and addiction, which could impact their intent. You’ve got someone who’s mentally ill and God’s telling him to do this,” Klein said.

Flat-out ignorance also can be a problem in proving intent. In the case of a swastika, for instance, “You can’t just assume that everybody knows about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust,” Klein added.

Showing a perpetrator's state of mind is difficult but not impossible, Tierney said. 

“Maybe you go on social media, you see this person evincing hateful ideation for a particular individual, a particular group,” he said. “That's now evidence there was a hateful motive for perpetration of the crime. You go to witnesses.”

However, authorities said, building a case around one of the most common types of hate incidents — graffiti — is often harder than the public may realize.

In some cases, building a case by finding witnesses and identifying perpetrators can be next to impossible, Tierney said.

“One of the toughest things to prosecute is where one person, in cover of night, writes something on a wall when no one’s around, then leaves,” he said.

In addition, Donnelly said, law enforcement won't crack down on hateful speech if it is expressed within a legal venue, such as a nonviolent march in which the organizers obtain a permit to express their views.

“Hate speech is not necessarily criminal speech,” she said. “That's your First Amendment right, to say hateful things.” 

Finally, authorities face a basic problem of limited resources, Klein said. “Are you going to take away homicide prosecutors to prosecute vandalism in the park?”

Advocates question hate crime stats

Police accountability advocates say the official numbers may not present an accurate picture of hate crimes on Long Island.

There is a real question about the accuracy of numbers that are reported, and that’s consistently been an issue for accountability groups.

— Fred Brewington, a Hempstead civil rights lawyer.

“There is a real question about the accuracy of numbers that are reported, and that’s consistently been an issue for accountability groups,” said Frederick K. Brewington, a Hempstead civil rights lawyer.

Department of Justice officials monitor Suffolk police under a 2014 settlement following the 2008 death of an Ecuadorian man, Marcelo Lucero, after an attack by seven teens and the revelation that police had ignored or done little to follow up on reports by dozens of other Latinos who said they’d been targeted.

Justice officials wrote in a January 2023 letter that Suffolk police should explain why its numbers were dropping “as it is unclear why Suffolk County would be an outlier from other parts of the state or country,” though they found that the department was in substantial compliance with the settlement agreement. 

A Department of Justice spokeswoman declined to comment.

Det. Sgt. Nancy Quattrociocchi, commanding officer of the Suffolk County...

Det. Sgt. Nancy Quattrociocchi, commanding officer of the Suffolk County Police Department's Hate Crimes Unit in Yaphank on Jan. 11. Credit: Rick Kopstein

Det. Sgt. Nancy Quattrociocchi, commander of Suffolk’s Hate Crimes Unit, said her unit followed up every tip about possible hate offenses and that the drop in hate crime numbers could be attributed to changes in how the department recorded these crimes and incidents. Starting in 2015, she said, the department has been more specific about differentiating hate crimes from hate incidents.

But Brewington and other advocates said that some of what Suffolk police reports as hate incidents should be charged as hate crimes. 

For example, they said swastika graffiti should be charged and reported as criminal mischief, one of the offenses listed in the Hate Crimes Act. With 32 graffiti hate incidents last year, that single change would triple the number of Suffolk's reported hate crimes.

“It looks like hardly anything is happening in Suffolk, but that’s totally not true,” said Helen Boxwill, co-chair of Huntington Town’s Anti-Bias Task Force. And, she said, the distinction between crimes and incidents obscured an important fact: “No matter what you call it, people are being hurt.”

Brewington said authorities ignored some cases that should have been charged as hate crimes. He cited the 2021 case of a client, Kyrin Taylor, a Black electrician who said he found a noose in his Farmingdale workplace that year. Taylor sued the company where he worked, the owner and two employees who allegedly displayed the noose. Taylor “called the police and the people who hung the noose admitted doing it,” Brewington said. 

Authorities, he said, “never arrested the individuals, never prosecuted, never presented the case to a grand jury.” 

Quattrociocchi said the case was “fully investigated” by a veteran detective and, after consultation with the DA's office, “The decision was made that it wasn't a hate crime.”

Brewington said the civil case settled but that he was unable to disclose the terms. 

You have to have someone who’s victimized ... you don’t have a victim, you don’t have a hate crime.

— Det. Sgt. Nancy Quattrociocchi, commander Suffolk’s Hate Crimes Unit

With regard to handling graffiti as a hate crime, Quattrocicchi said: “You have to have someone who’s victimized. You have to have someone who comes forward … I’m not minimizing it, but when you’re just drawing a swastika on a bathroom stall and you don’t have a victim, you don’t have a hate crime.”

Barriers to reporting hate crimes

Cultural and language barriers also might play a role in depressing the reporting of these crimes to police, experts said. 

“You have someone who’s had a bad experience with police in their country, or are undocumented, or fear having contact with police,” said Cheryl Keshner, founder and coordinator of the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition and part of a group that met with Justice Department officials during the federal monitoring of the Suffolk police department.

Tim Sini, Tierney's predecessor as Suffolk district attorney, said authorities needed to do more than enforcement to overcome those fears.

“People need to be reporting the incidents, and they're not going to report unless they know and trust law enforcement,” he said. “When you're talking about hate crimes, that's particularly important because often those victimized are marginalized and may have some distrust of law enforcement.”

Using “community ambassadors” like pastors, organizers and business owners is a common strategy, Sini said. 

The Suffolk police Hate Crimes Unit has added a detective who speaks Spanish, a department spokeswoman said in an email on Feb. 4. It's the language 218,695 Suffolk residents speak at home, according to the census. Further, Quattrociocchi said non-Spanish speaking detectives have not been hampered because they use department translators. Both she and Tierney said they have made strides in outreach, bolstering ties with town anti-bias task forces, and Suffolk police last year opened a hate crimes hotline to make it easier for victims to report crimes. 

Lewis, of the Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center, said he feared skepticism of law enforcement’s work could backfire.

“We shouldn’t be focusing on lack of prosecution, because then we send the message that it’s not worth reporting,” he said. “What would be scary to me is if someone saw something that needed to be reported and drove away because they didn’t think it was worth their time.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of Spanish-speaking detectives in the Suffolk police Hate Crimes Unit.

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