Officials Agree On Governor’s Hate Crimes Unit Plan

Post-election hate crime incidents and reports of discrimination in New York state have prompted a stern response from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Local officials say they’re supporting the governor’s creation of a Hate Crimes Unit and desires through legislative action to protect public school students from discrimination.

Cuomo’s push comes amid a rise in post-election harassment and bias-motivated threats. In a recent op-ed, Cuomo said the state will reject hateful attitudes that pervaded throughout this year’s campaign while fighting against the targeting of minorities.

Last week, Cuomo directed New York State Police to create a new Hate Crimes Unit to investigate and assist law enforcement agencies’ investigations of potential hate crimes. The Unit is comprised of investigators trained as bias crime specialists who will work with District Attorney Offices to provide the necessary support.

Recently, the governor ordered State Police and the Division of Human Rights to investigate an incident in Wellsville in which a swastika and a racist slogan was found on a baseball dugout. Cuomo also ordered an investigation into an alleged hate crime incident at SUNY Geneseo.

While the city of Dunkirk hasn’t experienced such incidents, Willie Rosas, mayor, said he believes the election may have caused hate crimes and violence. Rosas applauded the governor’s proactive response to address the issue.

“I think the outcome of the election has some of the minority communities feeling threatened and intimidated right now. I think it hurts all of us as a community because we want our people to feel safe and we want them to know they are protected,” he said.

City officers have been receiving ongoing training to deal with cultural diversity and sensitivity. But Rosas said he doesn’t anticipate there to be such issues of hate crimes in the city. The topic did come up during at a department head meeting last week as officials discussed the parade to recognize the Dunkirk Marauders’ high school football team.

“We’re expecting the community to show up and we have a diverse community, so the topic did come up,” he said. “Like I said, we have not had any experiences, so far that I’m aware of, of any hate crimes or anything like that.”

Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, said he supports the governor’s decision to allocate state resources to investigate hate crimes. Goodell said he’s also supporting Cuomo’s efforts to expand the state’s Human Right’s law to all students statewide and not just private school students as read under current law.

“Hate crimes are already banned in New York state and there are higher penalties for anyone who’s convicted of a hate crime. I feel strongly that we should pursue arrests and convictions of anyone engaged in hate crimes,” he said.

However, Goodell said he’s opposed to the governor’s proposal to establish the nation’s first emergency public/private legal defense fund to ensure all immigrants, regardless of status, have access to representation.

“I think it’s inappropriate to ask taxpayers who are paying income tax properly to pay higher taxes to defend those working illegally and not paying any taxes. I’m opposed to raising taxes on everybody else to defend them so they can stay there,” he said.

Cuomo said New York will always be a place of acceptance and a bastion of hope for all people.

“We will never allow fear and intolerance to tear at the fabric of who we are — New Yorkers are stronger than that and we are better than that,” he said. “With these decisive actions, we say to people of all backgrounds and beliefs: New York is your home and refuge and we will do whatever it takes to keep you safe.”