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

Gov. Kathy Hochul is expected to sign legislation that would include language broadening the state’s hate crime statute, an answer to what she described, earlier this year, as “the rising tide of hate.”

The Hate Crimes Modernization Act was included in budget bills state lawmakers voted on Friday as they began passing the state’s $237 billion spending plan.

The legislation will grow from 66 to 89 the number of specified offenses eligible for hate crime prosecution, adding mostly violent offenses like rape, gang assault and murder. The bill follows spikes in hate crimes across the nation, with a total 11,634 cases in 2022, up from 10,840 in 2021, mostly rooted in race, ethnicity or ancestry, according to the latest Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics.

“It is important that we hold perpetrators of hate accountable,” said one of the bill’s sponsors, State Assemb. Grace Lee (D-Manhattan), who has said that some of her Chinatown constituents were targeted in attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic. “When we don’t address hate in our communities, it has an incredibly corrosive effect.”

   WHAT TO KNOW

  • Gov. Kathy Hochul is expected to sign a bill broadening the state’s hate crime statute
  • The Hate Crimes Modernization Act was included in legislation state lawmakers voted on Friday as they began passing the state’s $237 billion spending plan.
  • The legislation will grow from 66 to 89 the number of specified offenses eligible for hate crime prosecution.

The legislation would also require state court and criminal justice officials to publish highly detailed semiannual reports about the criminal offenses charged under hate crime law. It also includes $35 million in grants made available for a "securing communities against hate" initiative for "at-risk" groups. 

In 2022 on Long Island, according to the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services' latest figures, police departments in Nassau County reported 61 hate crime incidents — more than double the 2021 total — and Suffolk departments reported 28, the same as the year before, although federal officials have questioned how the county department categorizes crimes.

High-profile incidents, like the 2022 explosion of an incendiary device at a Ronkonkoma mosque, or the discovery last week of antisemitic graffiti near an East Meadow elementary school, have rattled Long Islanders. 

The 2022 total hate crimes for New York State — 959 — was the highest in five years, according to DCJS statistics

Hochul’s office had trumpeted her support for the bill, describing it as a necessary measure against a “rising tide of hate” in a news release that accompanied her January State of the State address.

Several area prosecutors agreed and welcomed the new law. Nassau District Attorney Anne Donnelly, in a statement, said it would “strengthen protections for New Yorkers and provide prosecutors with further tools to respond to these disgusting acts of ignorance and intolerance.”

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, an early advocate of the bill, said in a statement that the legislation closed “loopholes” in the state’s existing hate crime law and praised it for “better equipping us with the necessary tools to hold those accountable who target marginalized communities.”

But Fred Klein, a visiting assistant professor of law at Hofstra University and the former chief of the Nassau County district attorney's Major Offense Bureau, said he doubted the bill would deter hate crime.

“It’s good for politics, explaining to people that you’re taking this seriously,” he said. But “the people generally that commit these types of crimes are not easily susceptible to this type of deterrence. They don’t give a lot of consideration to the consequences of what they are going to do.”

The state’s hate crime statute upgrades the severity of charges for certain offenses when it can be proved that bias was a motivating factor, increasing the amount of jail time an offender could face.

Among the new offenses covered in the bill is “swatting,” or falsely reporting a crime or emergency, as occurred with a rash of fake bomb threats at synagogues across the United States last year. Charging false reporting as a hate crime could turn that offense from a misdemeanor to a felony.

Making graffiti, another misdemeanor that was originally on the list of offenses to be included, was taken off because lawmakers were “aware of and sensitive to issues of over-penalization,” Lee said. Racist or antisemitic graffiti is generally the most common type of bias incidents investigated by police on Long Island.

“I’m extremely proud and happy our government is finally moving forward with doing the right thing,” said Rick Lewis, CEO of the Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center in Plainview. Lewis said he was concerned, though, that graffiti had been left off the list. “Graffiti in schools today is probably one of the largest forms of hate we hear about on a daily basis.”

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