Suffolk County launches Hate Crimes Task Force to aid in investigations and prosecutions.
According to statistics released by the FBI last year, hate crimes in the US have risen to their highest level in over a decade. The majority of hate crimes were motivated by race, ethnicity or ancestry bias, followed by religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and gender. Furthermore, although the rise in hate crimes in 2019 slowed to a 3% increase, the offenses were more violent that in previous years. It was also the third consecutive year with more than 7,000 hate crimes reported – a trend not seen since 2008.
Is it a coincidence that this rise in hate crimes began at a time when our country was subjected to a constant barrage of divisive and provocative rhetoric espoused by the 45th President and his political allies, and the ugly utterings of white supremacist groups became mainstreamed as a result? I think not.
Governor Cuomo created a NYS Hate Crimes Task force in 2018 to address the increase in bias-motivated threats, harassment and violence throughout the state. And recently, Suffolk County also announced the launch of its own Hate Crimes Task Force, consisting of specially trained prosecutors to work with police departments across the County to investigate bias-motivated crimes and bring enhanced charges where appropriate.
At a recent program sponsored by the Social Justice Committee of Temple Adas Israel, supported by a number of local community organizations dedicated to the promotion of social and racial justice, including the Southampton Democratic Committee, Suffolk County DA Tim Sini, Sheriff Errol Toulon and County Legislator Bridget Fleming discussed why such an initiative is important to better protect all the residents of Suffolk County. As DA Sini explained, our local police departments need to be better equipped and trained to identify hate crimes when they occur and to understand what evidence they need to gather to enable successful prosecution of such crimes. According to DA Sini, most hate crimes in Suffolk County are directed against persons of color and Jews.
A hate crime is defined as a criminal act that targets a victim based on the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation. Whether a criminal act is a hate crime goes to the perpetrator’s motive. For example, an assault on another person becomes a hate crime if it was preceded by hateful and offensive name-calling that clearly indicates the perpetrator’s state of mind.
Hate crimes go far beyond the criminal act itself. Being a victim of a crime is traumatic enough, but if the act was committed because of who you are or what you believe in, the violation causes an even deeper emotional impact.
If you have been the victim of a hate crime, or have witnessed one, call 911, contact your local police department or reach out to your local elected officials. We must all speak out against these heinous acts of violence.
Photography: Jason Leung, Jon Tyson