Two days removed from the horrific, bias-fueled massacre in Jersey City, Mayor Bill de Blasio blamed racists on social media for inspiring like-minded bigots into committing hate crimes.
De Blasio made the remarks on Dec. 12 after he and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea met with Jewish leaders in Williamsburg.
The mayor also blamed the “troubling climate in this country” for contributing to an overall spike in hate crimes in the city and country. Without naming him specifically, he laid some of the blame at the feet of President Donald Trump, who has been criticized by some for emboldening white supremacist groups and individuals with half-hearted condemnations of hate-filled episodes such as the 2017 incident in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Trump signed an executive order Wednesday instructing federal agencies to use Title VI — the law that bars federally funded programs from discriminating on the basis of ‘color, race or national origin’ — in an effort to combat anti-Semitism. Mayor de Blasio declined to take a stand on the order, saying he hadn’t studied it thoroughly.
De Blasio and Shea met with leaders in the community at Pesach Tikvah community center in Brooklyn to show support after they buried two members of their community Wednesday evening — Moshe Deutsch, 22, a customer at the Jewish grocery store and Leah Mindel Ferencz, 33, a co-owner of the store. Leaders also prayed for the store’s deliveryman, Douglas Rodriguez Bazullo, who was also slain Tuesday.
Officials have classified the murders in Jersey City on Monday as “a hate crime, targeting the Jewish owners and customers.”
Mayor de Blasio promised to do everything they can to protect the Jewish community that he said “has become a target of much of the hate crimes over the past year.”
Both he and Shea were critical of social media outlets for providing a platform for “hate speech that promotes violence against Jews and other ethnic groups, religions and social standings.”
“This should be a call to arms, and the challenge is the times that we live in when social media can be used for good and bad,” de Blasio said. “Social media companies feel that they can be neutral in this, but there must be a line in which they must be an arbiter.”
The mayor said the biggest threat to law enforcement are “right wing extremists,” including right wing militias that are heavily armed. He said he has mixed feelings about censorship, saying there must be balance in the freedom of speech, but that freedom “crosses the line” when there are people preach violence and post information on how to build a bomb.
“Balance has to be carefully observed and we have to figure out where that line is,” de Blasio said. “For example, being anti-Israel is not anti-Semitic. But here, social media companies cannot keep claiming to be innocent or neutral – especially from all the money they are making on hate speech by creating platforms for hate.”
Shea was also critical of social media companies, while observing that there is freedom of speech “in the Constitution.”
“We defend the Constitution every day, and it makes this city a great place, but social media companies have responsibility,” Shea said. “Protected speech doesn’t make it right to have disgusting content on social media.”
Also speaking was Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams who sat with Assemblyman Joe Lentol and Councilman Stephen Levin. Adams last month formed a coalition with various groups including the Anti Defamation League, to educate students and youth people on hate speech and racism.
“It’s time to have the conversation about the birth of hate,” said Borough President Eric Adams, a former NYPD police captain. “Every time a young person draws a swastika, and doesn’t understand why it was wrong, then we have failed. We must utilize the Department of education and create curriculum that focuses on intolerance. We must create relationships between American Jews and African American youth and create dialog between young people. We must make this commitment.”
Shea said Brooklyn has the highest rate of hate crimes against Jews, mostly because such large numbers live and work in the borough. The mayor promised to add more patrols and make hate crimes a much higher priority, using his new 25 member unit, the Racially and Ethnically Motivated Extremism or R.E.M.E., designed to go after violent extremists before they act.
Rabbi David Niederman of the Williamsburg community praised elected officials for their commitment to protect the community and he urged leaders to reach out to the community and create bonds to eradicate racism.
“We have a great responsibility to stop hate and violence,” Rabbi Niederman said as he called this the worst anti-Semitic act “in our area.”
“This is a great danger, especially after Pittsburg and Jersey City in our area – the danger is growing, and we must talk about it, act and plan together,” Rabbi Niederman said.