Spike in hate crimes prompts special NY police unit
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced initiatives to combat hate-based crime and harassment, including a special team to investigate hate crimes statewide
By David Olson
NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, in a speech at a historic Harlem church Sunday morning, decried what he called "the whirlwind of hate and division all across this country" since the election of Donald Trump and announced initiatives to combat hate-based crime and harassment.
Speaking to the predominantly African-American congregation at Abyssinian Baptist Church, Cuomo cited Ku Klux Klan fliers that were found on cars in Patchogue on Thursday and a swastika surrounded by "Make America White Again" scrawled on an upstate park building as examples of "the demonization of differences."
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate incidents, says there has been a surge of hate-based harassment against immigrants, African-Americans, LGBT people, Muslims and others since the election of Trump, who was supported by the KKK and whose victory was touted by white nationalist groups as a validation of their cause.
On Friday night, a swastika was scrawled at a Brooklyn park named for the late Adam Yauch of hip-hop group the Beastie Boys. Yauch, who died of cancer in 2012, was Jewish. A sign that said "Go Trump!" was also left at the park.
Close to 2,000 people turned out at the park Sunday, including a fellow Beastie Boy, Adam "Ad-Rock" Horowitz, to condemn the vandalism and call on Trump to denounce it.
"I reject Donald Trump's vision of America," Horowitz said. "New York City, I'm asking you to do the same."
Officials with the Trump campaign did not return a phone call and email requesting comment.
Cuomo said he is directing the State Police and the Division of Human Rights to put together a special team of trained professionals to investigate hate crimes statewide.
"We will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law the perpetrator of any of this ugliness and divisiveness," he said to applause.
The new hate crimes unit will offer assistance to other law enforcement agencies investigating potential hate crimes and to district attorneys in prosecuting them, the governor's office said later Sunday.
Cuomo said that in January he would ask the Legislature to allow the human rights division to investigate bullying, harassment and other discrimination in public as well as private schools. Current law covers only private schools, the governor's office said.
Cuomo said he wrote an open letter to all the state's college students that was emailed Sunday.
"We will not tolerate hate or racism," the governor wrote in the email, vowing to "firmly enforce" hate crime laws and urging those who were victims of bias or discrimination to call a recently launched bias hotline: 888-392-3644. It is staffed 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Cuomo also announced the formation of "a public-private legal defense fund to provide immigrants who can't afford their own defense or the legal assistance they need. Because in New York we believe in justice for all."
The fund, which would assist immigrants in the country illegally and those here legally, is the first in the nation and will be run in partnership with major colleges and universities, law firms, legal associations and advocacy groups, the governor's office said.
Cuomo spoke of how the nation was built by immigrants.
"If there is a move to deport immigrants, I say then start with me, because I am the son of Mario Cuomo, the son of Andrea Cuomo, a poor Italian immigrant who came to this country without a job, without money, without resources," the governor said.
Cuomo said the state must work to address the widening income inequality and economic displacement that he said are leading people to become angry and seek scapegoats.
"This fear and this anger, misdirected, seeks an enemy, and it seeks a target, and the target has become people who one sees as different than oneself," he said.
- New York