STAY SAFE, STATEN ISLAND: This story is part of a series examining crime trends in communities across our borough.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — A man accused of scrawling racist graffiti on political posters of Black candidates on the North Shore was hit with hate-crime charges.
A man who allegedly shouted anti-LGBTQ slurs at a gay couple who lives next door in Westerleigh was charged with trespass and harassment.
Alleged crimes of bias seem straight forward to the general public — but when it comes to the court of law, meeting a hate-crime statute in New York can get more complicated.
“In order for a person who commits a crime to be charged with a hate crime, we would have to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the person committed that crime against an individual in whole or in substantial part because of the criminal’s belief of that person’s race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious background,” said Mark Palladino, chief trial counsel and assistant district attorney in charge of hate crimes. “That’s what makes the hate-crime statute so difficult.”
WHAT ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA?
If a person doesn’t say anything discriminatory while committing a crime but did post what could be considered hateful content on social media, it would be difficult for officials to use that social media activity as a base for a hate-crime case, as prosecutors might not even have enough evidence to have a warrant for their social media pages, Palladino explained.
Social media helps more during cases of harassment to prove a “motivation or a mindset.”
“That gets more difficult for hate crimes, especially when you have no reason to go look at that path,” Palladino said.
If someone makes a statement during a criminal act, then social media would help strengthen that case, but it would “still [remain] very difficult” to prove that the only reason a crime was committed was because of what was posted online.
WHEN HATE CRIMES BECAME HATE CRIMES
Forty-three years ago, the city of Boston created the first ever hate-crimes unit in the country.
A total of 18 states and territories have hate-crimes laws, but do not require a collection of data of such crimes, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
Seven states or territories neither have laws nor requirements to collect data on hate crimes, the DOJ indicates.
However, a total of 31 states, including New York, have both hates-crime laws and require data collection.
Hate-crime laws were introduced in New York State in 2000, but the New York City Police Department started operating a hate crime task force in 1980 and started sending its data to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to ProPublica.
In 2019 Mayor Bill de Blasio launched the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes (OPHC) in the summer of 2019.
“In New York City, we cherish our differences and reject all attempts to divide — everyone is respected and supported, regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation or any other quality that makes them who they are,” de Blasio said then.
Most recently, after a spike of hate crimes targeting Asians in New York City during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the NYPD also created an Asian Hate Crime Task Force staffed with 25 officers of Asian descent.
Staten Island has seen its share of notorious hate crimes over the years.
The day after the state Legislature passed a bill to increase penalties for hate crimes in the summer of 2000, two Jewish teenagers were assaulted on a Willowbrook street in what police called a bias incident, Advance/SILive.com records show.
In 2016, a Tompkinsville man faced hate-crime charges after he allegedly threatened an imam with a pipe at the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center following the evening prayers.
Most recently, a West Brighton man has been accused of scrawling racist graffiti on political posters and a bus stop on the North Shore on four different occasions.
Just this week, a swastika was found spray painted on a Jewish campground on Staten Island. There have been no arrests in that case.
Overall in 2020, Staten Island saw 18 hate-crime incidents, an increase of eight compared to 2019, according to an analysis of data from the New York City Police Department conducted by the Staten Island Advance/SILive.com.
Of those 18 incidents, 14 were reported within the North Shore’s 120th Precinct, the data shows. Prosecutors believe one suspect was responsible for several of those reports.
The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) said in its annual report that white supremacist groups nearly doubled their propaganda activity nationwide in 2020 and just one group with a Staten Island presence was responsible for 10% of the recorded incidents.
The ADL’s Center on Extremism tracked 5,125 reported instances of racist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ fliers, stickers, banners and posters being placed in locations from college campuses to highway overpasses, according to the report, compared to 2,724 postings in 2019.
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