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Swastikas lead North Hempstead groups to combat hate crimes

Abdul Bhuiyan, left, a North Hempstead resident and

Abdul Bhuiyan, left, a North Hempstead resident and chairman of the Hillside Islamic Center in New Hyde Park, North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth, and the Rev. Dyanne Pina, executive director of the Long Island Council of Churches, speak outside the Hillside Islamic Center on Dec. 22, 2016. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

As the list of bias crimes in Nassau County has grown, community leaders are mobilizing to combat messages of hate.

In the Town of North Hempstead, where swastikas have been found painted on schools and etched in snow, government officials, religious groups and residents are calling for more action and conversation across racial, ethnic and religious lines to fight intolerance and discrimination.

In the past month, swastikas have been scrawled on the walls of Port Washington’s Paul D. Schreiber Senior High School and Garden City’s Nassau Community College, outside a Merrick convenience store, and in the snow in Mineola. The phrase “Make America White Again” was spray-painted on residential sidewalks in Mineola.

“The issue of increased hate crimes nationwide and unfortunately in our own backyard is extremely unnerving and disturbing,” Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said at a Dec. 13 board meeting. “It’s so important to combat that kind of ignorance and hate speech with education, with raising consciousness.”

The town board is contacting religious and ethnic groups to collaborate on a community effort to address hate crimes, Bosworth said.

Safeguarding the town’s diversity is a top priority, she added. Town officials plan to have a public discussion in the next few months, North Hempstead spokeswoman Carole Trottere said.

Nassau police are investigating several bias crimes and on Dec. 20 arrested Jasskirat Saini, 20, of Plainview, and accused him of vandalizing Nassau Community College with anti-Semitic graffiti. He has been charged with a dozen counts of aggravated harassment. His attorney entered a plea of not guilty.

Rabbi Michael White, of Roslyn’s Temple Sinai, said that althoug North Hempstead and Nassau as a whole are “very tolerant” and “multicultural,” no neighborhood is immune from hatred.

“This is a very enlightened place to live but nonetheless, like everywhere, among us there are people who clearly want to express this kind of hatred,” White said.

Forums on tolerance

North Hempstead residents and religious leaders say it is critical to speak out against acts of hate. Over the past month, religious groups have held public forums addressing tolerance and postelection anxieties in North Hempstead, and many similar discussions are taking place across Nassau and Suffolk counties.

“Hate crimes and bias incidents can instill fear and insecurity, affecting entire communities,” Evan Bernstein, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New York chapter, said in a news release, adding that a community’s leaders and residents should take action.

In North Hempstead, several residents at the December board meeting proposed ideas such as school tolerance programs and creating a legislative diversity task force.

“It’s not a Jewish matter, it’s not a Muslim matter,” said Port Washington resident Ed Freedman.

The swastika vandalism in schools, including Northport-East Northport High School as well as the high school in Port Washington, is particularly troubling to the Rev. Dyanne Pina, executive director of the Long Island Council of Churches.

“This used to be an adult problem,” Pina said. “Now the adult biases and hatred have filtered into our young people’s minds. . . . Young children are being exposed to that hate at such a young age.”

Nassau officials this month reported that, overall, hate crimes in Nassau are down about 6.5 percent from last year, with 57 reported thus far this year, compared with 62 reported in the same period last year. The majority of crimes have been graffiti-related.

Nationwide, statistics show a different picture.

From 2014 to 2015, the number of hate crimes reported in the U.S. rose 7 percent to 5,850 incidents, according to the FBI’s annual hate crime report. Hate crimes against Jews increased 6 percent, to 664 offenses. Crimes against Muslims went up 67 percent, to 257 reported crimes. While most took place near homes, 4 percent occurred at places of worship, according to the report.

Reports on the national increase and the most recent events in Nassau have members of New Hyde Park’s Hillside Islamic Center anxious and worried, said Abdul Bhuiyan, the center’s chairman.

‘Everyone has doubts’

The Muslim community needs to hear President-elect Donald Trump dispel fears that their citizenship is in jeopardy and that any form of discrimination will not be tolerated, he said.

“Right now citizens are against each other, everyone has doubts,” Bhuiyan said. “They’re worried about next-door neighbors.”

Two of New York’s elected officials in Washington have proposed legislative action: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) unsuccessfully called for $5 million in federal anti-terror funding to secure religious places and vowed to “fight again” for the money, said her spokeswoman, Wendy Brennan.

Outgoing Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) proposed a bill to create a designated hotline for hate crime victims. The bill is in committee, a spokesman said.

“There is simply no place for hate and intolerance in our communities, and when this kind of behavior rears its ugly head it must be called out for what it is by all decent people,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

Ultimately, people of all different faiths, cultures and backgrounds are fighting the same battle, Pina said.

“We can fight the hate, we can challenge the hate and we can beat the hate,” Pina added. “We must not let fear keep us down and keep us quiet because that is how it works. . . . When there is fear, we cannot mobilize, we cannot be a joined force.”

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