Alarming rise in hate crimes, discrimination in New York City: Survey

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(Left to right) Widad Hassan (Muslim Arab South Asian Lead Advisor at the NYC Commission on Human Rights) speaks to Maajieda AbdusSalaam of Masjid Taqwa, in Brooklyn, New York, at the release of the survey.

NEW YORK – It might not be too evident strolling through New York City, taking in the sights, mingling with happy tourists, but the Big Apple is seeing escalating hate crimes, bias harassment, discrimination and intolerance against minorities, according to results of a survey released by the NYC Commission on Human Rights.

The new report highlights Muslim, Arab, South Asian, Jewish and Sikh (MASAJS) New Yorkers’ experiences of bias harassment, discrimination, and acts of hate between July 2016 and late 2017, leading up to and following the 2016 presidential election.

The report, based on responses from over 3,100 MASAJS individuals across all five boroughs, found high rates of bias, discrimination, and acts of hate against these communities; the overwhelming majority of whom did not report the incidents.

“No one in New York City has permission to discriminate against or harass others because of who they are, where they pray, or what country they come from,” said Chair and Commissioner of the NYC Commission on Human Rights, Carmelyn P. Malalis, releasing the findings of the survey.

The Commission initiated the survey project following year-long conversations and roundtables with community organizations about the targeting of their communities and as a result of increased reports to the Commission from MASAJS community groups and bias incidents reported in the media, including the murder of an imam in Queens, an increase in anti-Semitic graffiti and harassment citywide, and multiple physical assaults against Sikhs, Muslims, and other New Yorkers in religious clothing.

Over the last two years, the Commission increased investigations into claims of discrimination and harassment based on religion, national origin, race, and immigration status by nearly 30 percent, but as the survey confirmed, these incidents are still vastly underreported.

The survey was designed and implemented following 15 focus groups and input from over 150 community groups, faith leaders, City agencies, and elected officials and conducted in nine languages (English, French, Bengali, Punjabi, Arabic, Russian, Hindi, Urdu, and Yiddish) over a three-month period (October – December 2017) in all five boroughs.

Here are some of the key findings of the survey:

  • Nearly two in five (38.7 percent) survey respondents reported experiencing verbal harassment, one in ten (8.8 percent) reported being the victim of physical assault, and nearly one in six (16.6 percent) said they experienced some form of racial, religious, or ethnic discrimination-related problem in their employment in either a current job or while seeking a job.
  • One in four (27 percent) Muslim Arab women who wear a hijab reported being intentionally pushed or shoved on a subway platform.
  • Sikh New Yorkers under the age of 35 have nearly twice the chance of experiencing verbal harassment than other survey respondents.
  • 80 percent of Jewish survey respondents said they were “very” or “somewhat” bothered by anti-Semitic vandalism or property damage.
  • One in five (19 percent) South Asian survey respondents said they had experienced employment discrimination.
  • Overall, nearly 71 percent of survey respondents said they did not report bias incidents to a community-based organization, a faith-based organization, the Commission, or the NYPD, citing concerns their reports would not being taken seriously, fear of retaliation, and because previous reporting did not result in action.

The Commission has come up with some recommendations to tackle bias and hate crimes, which include:

  • A community-based referral network – the Commission announced a partnership with seven community partners, including Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Sauti Yetu Center, the Sikh Coalition, the New York Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Arab American Association of NY, the Arab American Family Support Center, and Chhaya CDC, to identify next steps in piloting the community-based referral network.
  • New bystander intervention and cultural competency trainings for City outreach employees.
  • Directing mental health services through ThriveNYC to affected communities, and increased community outreach and legal resources to ensure MASAJS New Yorkers understand their rights.
  • Focus outreach and legal resources on impacted communities in order to educate New Yorkers about their rights, and encourage vulnerable communities to report incidents to the Commission. The NYC Commission on Human Rights is the City agency tasked with fighting discrimination and harassment by enforcing the NYC Human Rights Law, one of the strongest antidiscrimination and anti-harassment laws in the nation. The Commission has the authority to fine violators with civil penalties of up to $250,000 for willful and malicious violations of the NYC Human Rights Law and can award unlimited compensatory damages to victims, including emotional distress damages and other benefits.

The Sikh Coalition’s Legal Director, Amrith Kaur, lauded the Commission’s survey and its plans to counter cases of discrimination and hate crimes.

“We applaud the Commission’s work to shed light on the rampant rise of discrimination and acts of hate against New Yorkers, and the dire need to report such paints a stark picture…the reality of anti-Muslim bias under President Trump,” said Kaur, adding, “Not only have incidents jumped significantly, but the majority of victims still do not report harassment, discrimination, and hate crimes. This data shows that much work remains to be done to make sure every victim in our city is able to be heard.”

Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director for the South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) – an organization based in Washington, DC, which has been tirelessly fighting against discrimination against minorities – pointed out that the Commission’s findings were similar to what her organization has also uncovered.

“The Commission’s important report underlines once again that as long-targeted communities become more visible, their rights are threatened and their differences criminalized via federal policy to pit communities against each other along religious, cultural and racial lines,” said Raghunathan, adding, “with one in five hate violence perpetrators explicitly referring to Trump, his campaign slogans, or one of his divisive policies as their inspiration, the Commission’s findings echo our own.”

Raghunathan said that analyses underscore that Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian communities are increasingly targets of violence today.

“As white supremacists find themselves newly emboldened, and as this administration stirs a melting pot of division and bigotry, we remain committed to fighting not just for our communities, but for our core American values of inclusion and equity. 302 incidents of hate violence in one year don’t lie. The results are in, hate violence is on the rise, and history will judge us on what we do from here on,” she said.

Annetta Seecharran, Executive Director, Chhaya Community Development Corporation, said she’s looking forward to work with the Commissioner and her team to ensure that “our community feels safe in this city, and are able to report on discrimination and bias crimes.”

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)

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