New York City must take a “multipronged approach,” mainly involving “education and community relations,” to fight the recent “highly disturbing” rise in hate crimes, says the person tasked with fighting the trend.
Deborah Lauter, who formerly spent 18 years with the Anti-Defamation League, will be formally introduced Tuesday as the first executive director of the city’s newly established Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes (OPHC).
In an interview with Hamodia, Lauter said, “In my experience, there’s no one way to fight hate. You have to take a multipronged approach. Key to that is education and community relations. When we have these flareups [of hate crimes], that’s part of what I’m particularly interested in — what is causing this and how can we do a better job on the ground.”
OPHC, a new division of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, was created by the City Council and mandated to open by November in response to a rise in hate crimes in the city – particularly a drastic surge in anti-Semitic crimes. With the installation of Lauter as executive director, OPHC is opening two months ahead of schedule, as promised by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
New York City has seen 277 hate-crime complaints in 2019 through Aug. 25, of which 145 (52%) were anti-Semitic. In the same period of 2018, there were 192 hate-crime complaints, 88 (46%) anti-Semitic.
A large proportion of the incidents were property crimes, such as the scrawling of a swastika – and many of those were committed by a single individual considered insane and unprosecutable. Officials also say that at least a portion of the rise is due to increased willingness to report and identify hate-crimes.
However, there has been a spate of assaults on Jews recently, particularly in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and Crown Heights neighborhoods. The assaults have ranged from perpetrators knocking hats and yarmulkes off Chassidic men in Williamsburg, to a Pakistani immigrant driver in Boro Park attempting to run down a Jew in his car before getting out and beating another, to last week’s brick attack on a Jewish man taking his morning walk in a Crown Heights park, which left the victim with a broken nose, missing teeth, stitches on his head and lacerations on his body.
“I think the mayor and the City Council have recognized that it’s not enough to stand up after a hate crime and condemn it,” said Lauter. “While that is incredibly important, by establishing this office, they’re taking tangible actions to do something about it.”
Among OPHC’s tasks is coordinating responses to hate crimes across city agencies, including the NYPD, City Commission on Human Rights, Department of Education, Department of Probation, Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and District Attorney’s Offices. The office will take a “holistic approach” to preventing hate crimes, according to its website, by “developing and coordinating community-driven prevention strategies to address biases fueling crimes, and fostering reconciliation and healing for victims.” OPHC will try to use “non-law enforcement deterrence” models, including public-education campaigns and community outreach. It will also develop “diversion programs and other strategies so that the NYPD, District Attorney’s Offices, defenders and judges have options beyond arrest and prosecution to deal with hate crime perpetrators.”
Lauter says she understands that “there’s not going to be a quick fix out there,” but “there’s a lot that can be done, and I think our office will play a key role in that coordinating and raising the education.”
A member of the Board of Directors of The Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Education and Human Rights (TOLI), which provides Holocaust education training for teachers in the U.S. and Europe, Lauter believes that “heightening Holocaust education can be an invaluable tool” in combatting hate crimes, noting that she “spent a week out in Billings, Mont., watching rural teachers be trained on the Holocaust this summer. It was quite amazing and gratifying and I saw the impact that using the Holocaust to teach these teachers – not only Jewish history and culture, but to show them how they can use it as a vehicle for teaching their students to stand up to all forms of hate.”
The woman charged with combatting hate crimes says one result of her job may be that New York actually sees hate-crimes statistics rising further.
“Hate crimes are definitely underreported, and that will be part of the role here – to educate” and encourage people to report, said Lauter. “One of the things people will be looking at is, did hate crimes go down after the establishment of this office, but the paradox is they may go up because we’ve done such a good job educating people about what hate crimes are.”