District Attorney Michael E. McMahon Organizes Staten Island Rally and Press Conference Against Hate
Staten Island, New York, — local elected officials, Chief Frank Vega, the borough’s NYPD commanding officer, and faith and community leaders convened on the steps of Borough Hall Wednesday, May 26, at 10AM to denounce the recent citywide spike of hate crimes, anti-Semitic and anti-Asian incidents and the most recent incident to strike Staten Island.
Hate crime incidents across the five boroughs have risen in each of the first three months of 2021, according to the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Dashboard, primarily targeting Asian and Jewish people.
“Over these last few months, we have seen a wave of hate-based incidents and attacks across our city,” said District Attorney Michael E. McMahon, who together with Scott Maurer, CEO and Executive Vice-President of the Staten Island Council of Jewish Organizations (COJO) and Chairman of the District Attorney’s Hate Crimes Task Force organized the bi-partisan and interfaith press conference. “This behavior is cruel, it is ignorant, it is disgraceful, and we are here today to take a stand and deliver a clear message that there is no place for hate on Staten Island or any part of New York City.”
While just four hate crime complaints have been recorded on Staten Island this year through March 31, the most recent data available, Wednesday’s gathering comes just days after the May 24, Chabad of Staten Island in Meiers Corners was targeted with graffiti. Officials have said the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating the incident.
Chief Frank Vega vowed the department will arrest individuals who commit hate crimes and said the district attorney’s office will prosecute “to the fullest extent of the law.” “Hate in any form will not be tolerated on Staten Island,” said Vega.
District Attorney McMahon said that the perpetrators responsible for spray painting the words, “Synagogue of Satan” on the Chabad of Staten Island and other hateful language on nearby Jewish buildings in 2019 are still being sought. “We’re doing our best to find those individuals,” said McMahon, who remarked that his office “will not plead down a hate crime once we believe we have the evidence to support that charge. The district attorney’s office also offers support to victims of hate crimes and provides aid through the process of the legal system, “But a crime prevented is far better than a crime prosecuted,” noted McMahon.” We will continue to work to educate the citizens of this borough and make sure every community knows that my team and the NYPD are here to help you and protect you, and never to cause you harm,” he added.
Incidents of hate speech are not uncommon on Staten Island, and the media has reported on multiple instances of anti-Semitic graffiti found throughout the borough over the years.
Additionally, white supremacist flyers have been found posted on the borough from the North to South shores. In this past March, a swastika was found spray painted on a wall at Henry Kaufmann Campground in Sea View during Passover. The act was condemned by local officials as “heinous” and “cowardly.”
Rabbi Yaakov Lehrfield, of Young Israel in Staten Island, spoke alongside other Jewish faith leaders on the borough and condemned the ignorance that spurs acts of hate.
“I know everyone here by first name, even though we look different and we might speak different,” said Rabbi Lehrfield. “We are all humans and we are all the same ... We are more together than we are separate.”
Just days ago, a heated confrontation between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine protesters in Manhattan resulted in arrests and the brutal beating of a 29-year-old Jewish man. A 25-year-old Staten Islander was among those arrested and charged with multiple hate crimes in connection with the incident.
Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis strongly condemned “the attacks we are seeing on our brothers and sisters in New York,” adding that, “the rise in Asian hate crimes, the rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes, the rise in crime altogether, period, is something that is very disturbing and something that I continue to condemn and hope that we work together to address.” “And I think it starts by being here as a group in solidarity, vociferously and forcefully and unequivocally condemning these attacks,” said Malliotakis.
Earlier this year, Staten Island members of the Asian American community held a vigil in Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden in Livingston to honor the lives lost to anti-Asian violence. Staten Islanders expressed that anti-Asian sentiment is not a new phenomenon but has rather been magnified amid the pandemic.
“Here we are again and my fear is we’ll be back again,” Borough President James Oddo lamented of the need for borough officials to come together to denounce hate. “But, we will be back again and we will say this message because more and more people need to hear it. ”While noticing differences in appearance and beliefs is natural, noted Oddo, commonalities also deserve equal credence. “The bottom line is that we’re all after the same thing,” he said.
Councilman Steven Matteo echoed that sentiment, saying a positive example needs to be set for younger Staten Islanders to help stem the tide of hate from proliferating on the Island.
“We have to make sure that because our kids are listening ... that we get better each day,” said Matteo. “That we send the right example for our children, for our borough, for our city.”
“Hate is corrosive, it traumatizes and it marginalizes individuals and whole communities of people just because of what they look like. This is not a new concept,” said City Councilwoman Debi Rose who said she has been the victim of racism, “but it doesn’t make it right and we cannot tolerate it.”
Scott Maurer said, “[t]he only way to combat the evil of hate is when all good people band together and declare that there is no room for hate in our society. COJO-SI implores our civic leaders, religious leaders and elected representatives to speak out against hate and to condemn it. Where a hate crime occurs, we encourage the authorities to take all lawful steps to apprehend the perpetrators and to bring them to justice and hold them accountable for their actions. Words are important but insufficient. There must be action to ensure that law-abiding citizens can go about their lives without fear of unprovoked attack. A society where Jews or any American are scared to walk in the streets is a failed society
Mendy Mirocznik stated, “[t]he messages — in words and in action — must be plain, clear and precise that society will not tolerate hate crimes regardless of how one feels about the conflict in the Middle East or any other matter. There is no excuse for attacks on innocent people or vandalism of property. As Americans residing in a culturally diverse society, we must reject all unprovoked violence against anyone peacefully going about their lives. Our nation’s leaders must emphasize the urgent need to coexist in respect and peace. This is the only way we will win the war on anti-Semitism, hate and bigotry.”