Following an alleged hate crime against a Muslim worker at John F. Kennedy Airport, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced legislation that would further protect airport staff from assault.
The legislation, which Cuomo said would be introduced next week, would elevate an assault on an airport worker in New York State to a Class D felony, punishable to a maximum of seven years in prison. Similar laws are already in place for other transit workers in the region, like MTA bus operators or subway workers.
“No one should be attacked because of their job or their race or their religion,” Cuomo said at a press conference Sunday. “That has to be stopped and that is going to be stopped. This law is going to go a long way.”
The legislation will be known as the Transportation Worker Protection Act.
“Hopefully we can get it passed on an expeditious basis because of the severity of the situation,” Cuomo said.
On Wednesday, Rabeeya Khan, a Muslim Delta airline worker wearing a hijab was mocked and assaulted by a traveler at JFK Airport, according to the office of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.
Khan was sitting in her office within the Delta Sky Lounge of Terminal 2 when Robin Rhodes, 57, of Worcester, Massachusetts, allegedly came up to the door and asked, “Are you (explitive) sleeping? Are you praying? What are you doing?”
Rhodes continued to punch the door of Kahn’s office and eventually kicked her right leg, according to the District Attorney’s office. The worker allegedly asked Rhodes what she had done to him.
“You did nothing but I am going to kick your (expletive) ass,” Rhodes responded.
Another person came to calm Rhodes down, the District Attorney’s office said. At that point Khan managed to escape her office. Rhodes began to follow her and got down on his knees in mock prayer.
“(Explitive) Islam, (explitive) ISIS, Trump is here now,” Rhodes said as he bowed down, according to the District Attorney’s office. “He will get rid of all of you. You can ask Germany, Belgium and France about these kind of people. You will see what happens.”
Rhodes has been charged with, among other crimes, assault, unlawful imprisonment, menacing and harassment as hate crimes. He faces up to four years in prison.
Cuomo acknowledged a “rash” of similar behavior around the country since Donald Trump won the White House.
“I would like to be able to say that (the legislation) solves all our problems. Unfortunately, as you know, the situation is more complicated and the problem is worse than just a single isolated attack,” Cuomo said. “All across the state, you are seeing racist acts, racist statements. We have swastikas that are showing up all across the state. Despicable statements like ‘Make America White Again’ all across the state.
“This is not about one incident,” Cuomo continued. “It’s a rash of intolerance, of racism and bigotry that’s all across the country. And it is dividing people in this state; it’s dividing people in this country.”