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The city now has an office dedicated to fighting hate crimes

“There’s not one easy way to fight hate”: Meet Deborah Lauter, 62, who started last week as executive director of the city’s new Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes. Her tenure began in late August amid a spike in hate crimes across the five boroughs. (Credit: AM New York / Matthew Chayes)

New York City is dedicating an official to fighting hate crimes at a time when the offenses are skyrocketing across the five boroughs. 

Deborah Lauter, 62, started last week as executive director of the new Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes, within the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice. Besides prevention, the new office will coordinate the city’s response to hate crimes and will help victims and their communities.

Lauter, who was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, will supervise five or six employees and oversee a budget of $1.7 million in fiscal 2020, according to B. Colby Hamilton, a spokesman for the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice. Lauter's annual salary will be $150,000. 

Lauter joined the city after spending most of her career with Jewish-affiliated groups, including 20 years with the Anti-Defamation League. She also was executive director of a pro-Israel political action committee in San Francisco and worked at the Jewish Federation of Atlanta.

Anti-Jewish crimes citywide jumped 82 percent in the first four months of this year, compared with the same period in 2018, NYPD statistics show. All categories of hate crimes across the five boroughs increased 67 percent. 

Of the 148 crimes reported from January through May, 85 were anti-Jewish — more than half.  Of those 85 crimes, 80 percent were swastikas drawn as anti-Semitic graffiti.

“Clearly, I think the incidents that we’ve been seeing are coming out of Brooklyn, and the Hasidic community in particular,” Lauter said. “They are the most visibly Jewish, and they’ve been the targets of atrocious attacks.”

On Friday, the manager of a beach club on federal land in Queens told members that racist and anti-Semitic graffiti had been scrawled across the property's playground as well as on the club's walls and a door, according to The New York Times. "Heil Hitler" was written in block letters on the playground, a red swastika was on the walls and  "gas chamber" was painted on the door, photos sent to the Times showed. U.S. Park Police in New York are investigating the case. 

Lauter herself has been a victim of a hate crime. When she was living in Atlanta in the 1990s, a vandal or vandals left pork and shellfish products in her mailbox, she said. Jews who obey Jewish dietary laws or keep kosher, as Lauter said she does, don't  eat pork or shellfish.

“When it happened to me personally, I realized how much it meant to my identity and how much fear it raised,” she said. "It was pretty terrifying … in the scheme of things, I was not assaulted and the home wasn’t vandalized ... but it was pretty terrifying for my children.”

On Long Island, the number of reported hate crimes was down in Suffolk but up slightly this year in Nassau. 

For Suffolk police, reports of hate crimes have been going down since 2015, said Det. Lt. Gail Marrero, commander of the Suffolk County Police Department's major case section, but she said those numbers don't include graffiti. In Nassau, county police said 41 hate crimes had been reported through July 31, compared with 34 for all of last year, but spokesman Det. Vincent Garcia didn't immediately provide a breakdown of what crimes were included.

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