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NYC Mayoral Candidates Debate Police Role in Fighting Hate Crimes
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NYC Mayoral Candidates Debate Police Role in Fighting Hate Crimes

In a Jewish Week survey, hopefuls disagree on when and how to deploy the NYPD.

Andrew Silow-Carroll is Editor in Chief of The NY Jewish Week.

Members and supporters of the Asian-American community protest anti-Asian violence at a rally in Queens, March 27, 2021. (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)
Members and supporters of the Asian-American community protest anti-Asian violence at a rally in Queens, March 27, 2021. (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

When anti-Semitic hate crimes spiked in New York in 2019 and 2020, many Jews welcomed increased police presence at their synagogues and institutions.

But the gratitude wasn’t universal: Some Jews of color complained that police often make them feel less safe. And in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, other communities are wary of asking police to solve a problem whose solution, they say, rests in education and public policy.

How would New York’s next mayor fight hate crimes? To find out, The Jewish Week asked them just that in a questionnaire we sent to all eight major candidates. (All but businessman Andrew Yang responded.) You can find their responses to all six questions we asked on our website.

All agreed that addressing hate crimes was a priority, but differed on the role of the NYPD and where the emphasis on prevention should be placed.

Not surprising, the three candidates considered the most progressive had the most — and least — to say about the police. Dianne Morales, the former teacher and fair housing activist, was the most pointed in deemphasizing law enforcement’s role in preventing and responding to hate crimes. “No one should have to live in fear of others — especially of law enforcement,” she said. “I do not believe that increased policing makes our communities any safer, and, for Black and Brown individuals specifically, it puts them in more danger.”

Morales said she will “divest from the NYPD and reinvest that money” into “education, healthcare, and housing for all.” She would also “increase funding to and work with the NYC Human Rights Commission and community based organizations to create and enact a comprehensive plan to protect vulnerable communities.”

City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who recently picked up the endorsement of the progressive Working Families Party, didn’t talk at all about law enforcement’s role in his response. He responded by recalling how he joined Chinatown leaders and small business owners after the mass shooting in Atlanta in which six Asian women were killed. He also spoke about education, saying he worked with Assemblymember Nily Rozic to expand Holocaust education and hate crime awareness and prevention in middle and high schools.

As for specifics, Stringer said he would “strengthen the city and state’s survivors funds, work with community-led safety efforts to prevent incidents of harm, support businesses and workers who are experiencing an additional financial burden of the rise in hate, and work with experts in the restorative justice field to pioneer new approaches to repairing harm for survivors of hate.”

Attorney and former MSNBC analyst Maya Wiley was of two minds about the role of the NYPD. On one hand, she said protecting New Yorkers against hate crimes is a policing function. On the other, she called for “rightsizing” that would  ensure the NYPD “isn’t performing tasks that are not policing” — a nod to police reform advocates who say police are ill-equipped to deal with, for example, mental issues, homelessness and traffic control.

Not suprising, the three candidates considered the most progressive had the most — and least — to say about the police.

Shaun Donovan, who served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Obama, echoed the concerns of the reformers. He would keep the mitigation of hate crimes an NYPD responsibility, but called for “massive reform that includes a new approach to public safety and puts racial justice as a guiding principle.” He said he would reduce what is asked from police officers so that “they can focus on getting guns off our streets and reducing violent crimes,” while “shifting responsibility for mental health crises, schools, homeless outreach, and traffic to other agencies that are better equipped to deal with these types of challenges.”

Wiley, however, was willing to consider an idea that didn’t come up in the others’ responses: adding NYPD-monitored cameras outside of high-risk locations, while, she said, “heavily balancing concerns around data privacy and potential abuse of data.”

Various candidates spoke of examining the array of city bodies that have a hand in monitoring and preventing hate crimes. Kathryn Garcia, the former city Sanitation Commission who has cast herself as a problem-solver, grounded her response in education and streamlining bureaucracy.

“We must do a better job within schools to have culturally competent curriculums that teach the history of our diverse communities, and tell the stories of the immigrant groups that helped build our city and our country,” she said.

She noted that combating hate crimes falls under the purview of several agencies: the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force, the City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes (under the Mayor’s Office for Criminal Justice), as well as various education programs within the DOE. “Within city government, I would streamline the work that exists across numerous agencies and offices to make combating hate crimes more effective,” she said.

NYS Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou speaks at a vigil at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, in a show of solidarity after a person or persons tied a Confederate flag to the front door, Jan. 14, 2021. (Courtesy)

Wiley too focused on the bureaucracy, saying that as counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio she fought for City Hall to give the CCHR “the focus and resources it deserves.” She was critical of the Mayor’s Office of Hate Crimes, and said she would move it into CCHR “to ensure that it has the legal weight of the City behind it.”

She also spoke about education, saying she worked for “citywide educational curricula against antisemitism, islamophobia, transphobia, anti-Asian bias, and more.”

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams answered the question in bullet points, the first saying he’d give the NYPD the “resources they need to swiftly identify, apprehend, and prosecute those who prey on innocent New Yorkers through these cowardly acts.” He supports programs that make it easier for non-English-speaking victims to safely report hate crimes, the expansion of anti-hate curriculums in public schools and “cross-cultural dialogue initiatives.”

Adams led one such program in Brooklyn, “Breaking Bread, Building Bonds,” that brings together people of various ethnicities, identities, and faiths

Businessman Ray McGuire said he would preserve funding for the NYPD’s Hate Crime Task Force and expand resources to prosecute perpetrators of hate crimes.

“We also need better data — underreporting means we may not be giving the right support for victims or providing investment in the places where we can make the most difference — that’s something I would make a major focus,” said McGuire.

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