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USA: Swastikas and Burning Pride Flags: Hate Crimes Spike in N.Y.

Monday 10 June 2019, by siawi3


Swastikas and Burning Pride Flags: Hate Crimes Spike in N.Y.

Even as crime has fallen overall, the sharp increase in bias incidents and vandalism has unsettled a city known for its multicultural fabric and tolerance.

Image: Alexi Minko, the owner of the Alibi Lounge, with one of two rainbow flags that were anonymously donated after his were set on fire.CreditCreditIvan Armando Flores for The New York Times
Sharon Otterman

By Sharon Otterman

June 5, 2019

In Staten Island, the phrase “Synagogue of Satan†was spray painted on a wall outside of a Jewish school. In Brooklyn, a pro-Hitler message was scrawled on a poster outside a Jewish children’s museum whose mission is to fight anti-Semitism. In Manhattan, two rainbow pride flags were set on fire outside of a gay bar.

The incidents, all of which happened last week, were the latest in a continuing spike in reported hate crimes in New York City.

Even as crime has fallen overall, the sharp increase in bias incidents and vandalism has unsettled a city known for its multicultural fabric and tolerance. It comes as the entire country has been wracked with heightened racial tensions and violence, including shootings at synagogues in San Diego in April and in Pittsburgh last year.

Police officials said on Tuesday that most of the recent hate crimes in New York have been acts of vandalism rather than violent assaults.

“By and large, what we see across the city is, as you describe, either criminal mischief, property damage or graffiti,†said Dermot F. Shea, the city’s chief of detectives. “That makes up the vast majority, and we treat them as seriously as we would an assault, quite frankly, because of the message of hate that it sends to all of the residents of the city.â€

Image: The remnants of one of the burned rainbow flags outside Alibi.CreditAlyssa Paolicelli/NY1

As of June 2, there had been 184 hate crimes reported in the city so far this year, a 64 percent increase over the same period in 2018, they said. The increase is being propelled largely by anti-Semitic incidents, which were up 90 percent.

The incidents in New York City fit a different pattern than what is often seen nationally, in part because far-right and white supremacist groups have less influence in the city, the police said. The 75 people arrested so far this year for committing hate crimes, according to the police, “run the gamut,†including young teens, career criminals and the mentally ill, with a variety of motivations, some of them rooted in local disputes.

Other large cities have also seen hate crimes rise. In 2018, Los Angeles recorded its highest level of hate crimes in a decade. Washington D.C. logged 205 hate crimes, nearly double from two years earlier, and Chicago saw hate crimes rise by 26 percent in 2018, according to an analysis by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

“I think what we’re seeing, unquestionably, is an unleashing of the forces of hate all over this country,†Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference on Tuesday. He said New York has “a different reality in some ways†but the national backdrop has “put everyone on edge and it’s created a lot of division.â€

City officials on Tuesday vowed to increase their efforts to reverse the trend, including by opening a new Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes within the mayor’s office this summer.

Created by a law passed by the City Council in January, the new office will be charged with coordinating responses to hate crimes across city agencies, developing prevention strategies and fostering healing for victims.

The rise in hate crimes, Mr. de Blasio said, is “an unacceptable reality and we’re going to fight it with everything we’ve got.â€

There have been 110 anti-Semitic crimes reported so far this year, compared to 58 at the same time last year. In some of New York’s Orthodox Jewish enclaves, anti-Semitic assaults, slurs and swastika graffiti have grown so common that people are at risk of becoming numb to them, community leaders said.

Jewish groups have been concerned that an ongoing measles outbreak, centered in the ultra-Orthodox community, might be contributing to an atmosphere of anti-Semitism. But Evan Bernstein, the director of the Anti-Defamation League for New York and New Jersey, said that while he had heard from community leaders about dozens of incidents of anti-Semitic harassment involving measles, very few have been formally reported.

In the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn last week, a teenager riding a bicycle slapped an Orthodox Jewish man in the head and knocked off his hat, the police said.

A few weeks earlier in the same area, a teen ran up behind an Orthodox Jewish man, punched him in the head, and knocked off his hat in an assault that was captured on video. Police arrested a 16-year-old boy in that incident.

In past years, there have been spates of similar assaults, but this wave has gone on longer, Mr. Bernstein said.

“There’s an incident, and then a few days later, another one,†he said. “It’s never allowing the community to really re-center itself and feel like it’s over.â€

Some incidents have been particularly disturbing. Devorah Halberstam co-founded the Jewish Children’s Museum in Crown Heights in 2004 to help build bridges between Jewish and non-Jewish children. The project is in honor of her son, Ari, who was murdered in an anti-Semitic attack in 1994.

The museum’s regular work is to host student groups and talk about cultural differences. So when the words “Hitler is Coming†were scrawled Thursday afternoon on a large interactive poster outside the museum designed to attract inspiring messages, it felt “so much more hurtful,†she said.

“It’s the kids we didn’t get to yet,†she said, referring to the culprits. She vowed to redouble her efforts.

“I don’t look at this as a Jewish thing anymore,†she said. “I believe all good people should rise up and join us.â€

In Staten Island, the Orthodox Jewish community has been growing, and in recent months, there have been tensions between Jewish and non-Jewish residents over the installation of an eruv, a symbolic boundary that Orthodox Jews often erect around neighborhoods to allow them to carry items not usually allowed in public places on the Sabbath.

The Chabad of Staten Island, led by Rabbi Moshe Katzman, has been in the Manor Heights community since 1989. And in all that time, Rabbi Katzman said he has not seen anything like what happened last week, when the words “Synagogue of Satan†were spray painted on the wall of the yeshiva affiliated with his synagogue.

“I can’t say I’m shocked and surprised,†Rabbi Katzman said. “The whole world is changing now, for whatever reason.â€

Hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation are also up this year, with 18 complaints reported so far this year, compared to 13 in the same time period in 2018, police said. There were also increases in anti-white, anti-black, anti-Asian, and anti-Hispanic incidents. Anti-Muslim incidents decreased by 25 percent, with only 6 reported so far this year. Arrests for hate crimes have increased 19 percent, the police said.

In Harlem, Alexi Minko said he had always felt welcome as the owner of the Alibi Lounge, the only gay bar in the neighborhood around 139th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard. So he was shocked when he looked outside his glass door on Friday at around 12:15 a.m. and spotted something burning in the middle of a rainstorm.

He and several patrons ran out to find the two rainbow pride flags hung by the door on fire, he said. They stamped out the flames. Police are now searching for a man who can be seen on a security camera video setting them alight.

The incident took place at the start of Pride Month, which celebrates lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer identity. “That is the unsettling part about the whole thing,†Mr. Minko said. “Either he was unaware, or he was and he was trying to send a message.â€

“In a million years I never thought that something like this would happen to us,†he said. But rather than retreating, he said, he is now looking for bigger, brighter flags to hang.

“We are not scared,†he said. “We are not going anywhere. We are not intimidated.â€

Ali Watkins contributed reporting.

Sharon Otterman has been a reporter at The Times since 2008, primarily covering education and religion for Metro. She won a Polk Award for Justice Reporting in 2013 for her role in exposing a pattern of wrongful convictions in Brooklyn.