BY JACKSON CHEN | In response to the recent rise of hate crimes in New York City, two city councilmembers are proposing a $25 million fund for security grants to cultural institutions and community centers.
Upper West Side Councilmember Mark Levine and Queens Councilmember Rory Lancman together announced the initiative outside City Hall on March 9. The fund would offer parts of its $25 million budget to cultural institutions and community centers that are at risk of being targeted for their ideology, beliefs, or mission. While there are currently funds from the state and federal levels to improve safety and security at schools and daycare centers in danger of being targeted in hate crime attacks, the councilmembers wanted to afford those same protections on a city level to other organizations, as well.
“Our city’s community centers and cultural institutions, which have been repeatedly targeted in recent months, are left with nowhere to turn for help in meeting their security needs,” Levine said in a press release.
The two councilmembers were joined by City Comptroller Scott Stringer and several Jewish organizations in their call for funding security measures.
According to the statistics from New York Police Department’s Hate Crime Task Force, incidents have more than doubled from January 1 to March 5, compared to the same time frame last year.
This year, there have been 100 reported hate crimes in the new year, compared to last year’s 43, representing a 113 percent increase, according to the NYPD. More specifically, their numbers also show there were 55 instances of anti-Semitic hate crimes so far in this year, a 189 percent increase over last year’s 19 reported incidents. While far less than anti-Semitic incidents, anti-Muslim hate crimes also rose 150 percent from two cases last year to five cases this year, according to the statistics.
With hate crimes outnumbering the amount of days to date, incidents have been reported throughout the boroughs, including back-to-back bomb threats on March 10 and 11 in Brooklyn at the Jewish Children’s Museum and at Midwood Jewish Center. In December, West Side State Senator Brad Hoylman was informed of a swastika carved onto the door of his apartment building, and several days later he opened a letter containing an anti-Semitic, anti-Israel pamphlet.
More recently, on February 28, the Fourth Universalist Society at 160 Central Park West at West 76th Street discovered two swastikas and the words “race office” carved into its doors. Reverend Schuyler Vogel said the congregation had initially hoped it was some act of petty vandalism, but the reference to “race office” — a phrase he believes alludes to the Nazi Party unit that enforced racial purity — made him believe there was intent behind the act.
“There was a lot of concern and surprise when it happened,” Vogel said. “No one expected it, and our congregation hasn’t been a target like this before. But I don’t think there is any feeling that we should stop what we’re doing. If anything, it’s a confirmation we’re doing something right.”
Vogel added that just weeks prior, the church had signed onto the sanctuary movement where religious institutions offer refuge to undocumented city residents in light of the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown.
To repair the marred doors, church staff tried to minimize the damage through sanding and varnishing, but will have the woodworker who designed the doors revisit and restore them to their original quality.
In terms of preventative measures, Vogel said, the councilmembers’ proposal to fund security measures was a great idea. He said that surveillance cameras and security are expenses often overlooked by churches.
“Our congregation hasn’t had the resources historically to add security, to have cameras,” Vogel said. “We don’t have either of those things. A lot of congregations don’t have a tremendous amount to spare.”
In the case of Fourth Universalist, Vogel said, cameras are tricky given the value his congregation places on privacy and anonymity due to their sanctuary status as well as the many Alcoholics Anonymous groups that meet there. However, better lighting around the church building, he said, could dissuade potential incidents in the future.
If the Council’s funding proposal goes through, the Fourth Universalist could get a brighter entrance to match the outlook of its congregants and leader. Though the recent hate crime was disturbing, Vogel took it as an opportunity to unite leaders from different faiths and communities against hate during a service on March 10. Politicians on the city, state, and federal levels joined leaders of synagogues and mosques in singing hymns and rededicating the space as someplace where all are welcome and offered refuge if needed.
“All effective change movements will attract attention that is negative,” Vogel said. “We’re not going to stop being a sanctuary church, and we think the world needs a progressive liberal voice.”