Prompted by a rash of hate-related incidents reported on Long Island and elsewhere since Donald Trump was elected president, religious leaders, school officials and local politicians gathered Wednesday at the Tri Community and Youth Center in Huntington Station to denounce them and call for unity.
Suffolk Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), surrounded by about a dozen leaders, said he has received calls from constituents and friends who are alarmed over expressed hatred and intimidation toward religious and racial minorities since the presidential election.
“I want to give us this opportunity to come together to speak to our anxieties, our fears, our concerns that have been spurred by acts, predominantly, or ignorance,” Spencer said at the news conference, referring to swastikas found inside Long Island high schools. “A lot of these things aren’t hardcore hate, but just ignorance.”
Last week, a swastika was found on the wall of a boys’ bathroom at Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington, and three students found multiple swastikas drawn in the theater storage room at Northport High School. And, fliers glorifying the KKK were left on cars parked in a Patchogue parking lot.
Between the election and Nov. 18, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hateful incidents nationwide, received more than 700 reports of harassment and possible hate crimes, according to SPLC. The most frequent targets were immigrants. But it said blacks, gays, Muslims and others reported being victimized.
In Nassau, there were three hate crimes reported from Nov. 4 to Nov. 22 this year. Last year, there were two hate crimes reported for the same period.
In Suffolk, the swastika incident at Northport High was the only reported hate crime in Suffolk since Nov. 9, a police spokesman said. A year yearlier, two such incidents were reported during the same period. In the episodes in which swastikas were found inside Long Island’s high schools, Spencer and others believed the acts of vandalism were carried out by students who don’t fully comprehend the significance of the symbol used as the emblem of the German Nazi Party.
The solution, they said, is to educate the children.
Rabbi Susie Moskowitz at Temple Beth Torah in Dix Hills said she met with youngsters weekly and urged them to invite a student they don’t know to sit with them at lunch. Religious teachings of peace, tolerance and love thy neighbors need to be put into practice, she said.
“We need to set the example. So, you, too, need to invite people to your homes who look different than you, who speak a different language than you, and get to know them on a whole other level,” Moskowitz said.