Law & the Courts

The Hate-Crime Spike in New York City Has Nothing to Do with White Supremacy

(Chip East/Reuters)
Anti-Semitic assaults are adding up, but city authorities don’t seem interested.

From the beginning of his presidential campaign through his comments after Charlottesville, Donald Trump’s rhetoric and actions have been linked to an upsurge in hate crimes. Yet while Trump deserves condemnation for arguably enabling fringe elements of the Right, that link, often advanced by his critics, is not at all clear. In fact, it obscures a different trend. Just look at New York City, where one of the largest spikes in anti-Semitic hate crimes tells a different story yet has gone largely unremarked upon.

In 2018, almost half of all anti-Semitic assaults nationally occurred in New York. There, the New York Police Department’s hate-crime-unit data indicate a substantial increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes (a broader category than just assaults). The number jumped from 17 in 2017 to 33 in 2018, and is on pace to rise again in 2019, with 19 in the first half of the year. New York mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly insisted that the attacks against Jews in New York are driven by a white-supremacist movement connected to Donald Trump, and a NY/NJ report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on the spike in anti-Semitic assaults in New York followed De Blasio’s lead. Despite the fact that all the assaults were in New York City, the report noted, “In 2018, ADL documented 67 white supremacist propaganda distribution incidents in New York State, 10 of which were anti-Semitic in nature.”

This is at odds with the evidence. None of the suspects in any of the New York City anti-Jewish crimes against persons had any previous arrests for hate crimes or any background in hate-related activities, organized or otherwise. Armin Rosen pointed out that these spurious suggestions were made “despite clear evidence that . . . many of the attacks are being carried out by people of color with no ties to the politics of white supremacy.” Indeed, in 2017 and 2018, 37 blacks compared with 46 whites were arrested for anti-Jewish hate crimes, the majority of which were for property vandalism and harassment — statistics consistent with national data. The city, of course, has a history of such incidents, dating back to the riots in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights in the 1990s.

This summer, the anti-Semitic assaults have continued. In early August, attackers punched three Jewish men in the face as part of an attempted robbery in the Hasidic section of Williamsburg. Later that month, Rabbi Avraham Gopin, 64, was attacked with a brick-shaped rock in Crown Heights as he was exercising in a park. Gopin lost two teeth and suffered facial and leg injuries. In the same week, a group of men threw rocks at an Orthodox man sitting in his truck just a few blocks away from where Gopin was assaulted. The rock broke the driver’s side window and hit him in the eye, cutting his face. The latest violent attack took place over Labor Day weekend, when an assailant hit a third Orthodox Jewish man with a belt outside a synagogue on Saturday night.

There has also been an anti-Muslim hate-crime spike in the Bronx, highlighted by two incidents this year. In January, there was an attack on a Muslim father walking his daughter home from school. Then in May, a young Muslim woman was attacked while taking a bus home from her college’s awards ceremony. Four young men harassed her on the bus and then beat her up after she exited, resulting in $4,000 of medical bills. According to the New York City Commission on Human Rights, black Muslim women living there were at “notably high risk for bias motivated assaults,” with 1 in 5 women having experienced physical assault.

Despite this high incidence of hate-crime violence, the police seem to place a low priority on finding the perpetrators. Two weeks after the February assault in the Bronx, the perpetrators were caught only because the mother of one turned in her 14-year-old son. As to the May assault in the Bronx, the police had initially arrested three suspects at the scene. However, they dropped the case when the victim could not make an identification. The victim was forced to take the initiative and found two street cameras that had captured the incident. Only after she brought the videos to the police did they again pursue the case.

Such a lack of urgency may reflect an overall decline in arrests. One possible explanation for this recent trend has to do with the city government’s approach to crime. In an attempt to reduce arrests and incarceration, district attorneys in Brooklyn and the Bronx have been decriminalizing many crimes, and police have been more reluctant to make arrests. In light of the killing of Eric Garner, who was placed in a chokehold while being arrested for illegally selling loose cigarettes, a Manhattan source told a New York Post reporter in August that this “would never have happened today — because the city has told officers to back down on making such quality-of-life busts.”

The precipitous arrest decline might reflect judging some hate crimes as minor quality-of-life crimes. However, an unintended consequence of this more lenient policy is that some individuals will take it as a signal that they will not be held accountable for bad behaviors. “Respect for authority has gone away so people revert to activities they’d be afraid to do a couple of years ago,” Eli Cohen, the executive director of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, speculated.

It seems that many liberals downplay hate crimes that don’t fit their narrative. A better approach would be consistency: We should vigorously pursue hate-crime perpetrators regardless of who they — or the victims — are.

Robert CherryMr. Cherry is a professor of economics at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center.

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