Lawmakers gathered on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday afternoon to call for the formation of a new office geared toward preventing hate crimes amid a disturbing spike in attacks targeting minority groups in the city and around the nation.
City Councilmembers Mark Levine of Manhattan and Donovan Richards of Queens, who are spearheading legislation at the city level to create the new office, were joined by other lawmakers in city, state, and federal offices who threw their full-throated support behind the bill.
If created, the office would mark the first of its kind at the mayoral level. The NYPD’s Hate Crime Task Force is currently responsible for investigating all hate crimes and related incidents in the city.
“We’re here to make sure the NYPD isn’t the only agency addressing these issues,” said Richards, who chairs the Committee on Public Safety.
Levine explained that the office would aim to improve coordination among city agencies, train people on ways to interact with the NYPD, and improve the tracking of hate crimes. Calling it “the answer to bureaucracy,” he argued the office would serve as another way to improve accountability.
The Committee on Public Safety’s report on the bill notes that a coordinator would oversee the office and hold a variety of responsibilities including creating and implementing a system for the city’s response to hate crimes in conjunction with the Commission on Human Rights, making recommendations to the mayor, and working with community groups and non-governmental agencies.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has yet to announce whether he supports the bill, but Levine told Gay City News that the mayor is “supportive” thus far.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said he is fully behind the proposal and said he looks forward to “helping shepherd” the bill through the legislative process.
The strong support for the bill comes as no surprise considering that NYPD Deputy Inspector Mark Molinari, who heads up the Hate Crimes Task Force, said during a City Council hearing last month that there had been 308 confirmed hate crime incidents through November 11 of this year, with a 27 percent increase in anti-black hate crimes and an 18 percent increase in anti-Semitic crimes.
Most politicians in attendance also highlighted attacks against members of the LGBTQ community, and Brooklyn Councilmember Jumaane Williams — who is among the candidates to succeed Attorney General-Elect Letitia James as public advocate — notably pointed to the cases of violence against transgender women of color.
Local LGBTQ groups are reacting to the proposed bill with cautious optimism, offering suggestions for best implementing such an office.
“I think it is good that the office should exist,” said Audacia Ray, the director of community organizing and public advocacy for the Anti-Violence Project, which serves LGBTQ and HIV-affected victims of violence.
Ray, who testified at a City Council hearing on the bill in November, said the office needs to pay attention to incidents of bias that might not fit the definition of a hate crime but are still significant.
“I think the NYPD is not the only way to address bias incidents,” she said. “It’s important to invest in community leadership that is specific to the location and geography of different neighborhoods.”
The LGBT Community Center announced its support for the bill in November, but suggested some modifications to the approach as well. The Center asked that the de Blasio administration focus on outreach efforts geared toward populations that are most targeted, including gender-nonconforming and transgender people in addition to the wider LGBTQ community. The Center would also like to see the administration generate more comprehensive data, survey target populations, and explore new reporting methods to better encompass those who do not always go to traditional authorities.
Among others in attendance on Tuesday were Congressmember Nydia Velázquez, Councilmembers Chaim Deutsch of Brooklyn, who is sponsoring the bill, and Manhattan’s Helen Rosenthal, and Assemblymembers Harvey Epstein and Dan Quart of Manhattan and Michael Blake, another public advocate candidate, from the Bronx.