NYCC Public Safety Committee Hearing

Testimony of Leo Ferguson, Jews for Racial & Economic Justice

March 18, 2022

Good afternoon, Chair Hanks, Speaker Adams and council members.

My name is Leo Ferguson, and I am the Director of Strategic Projects at Jews For Racial & Economic Justice. I am testifying on behalf of our organization and our partners in the NYC Against Hate Coalition. We are seeking an expansion of funding through the Hate Crimes Initiative, formerly the Hate Violence Prevention Initiative.

This initiative provides resources to community-based organizations to engage in culturally-competent hate violence prevention and education. It was funded at approximately $1.7 million dollars by this council in FY20 in response to rapidly rising hate crime in New York City.

In the years following, that already low-level of funding has been cut repeatedly, despite skyrocketing levels of identity-based violence directed at Jewish, Asian, and LGBTQ New Yorkers, and the unacceptable bigotry directed at many other communities throughout our city.

Instead, the city has poured resources into NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force and focused on prosecutions — sometimes arresting children as young as 13 or 14. It should be obvious that chasing down random individuals after the crime has already been committed and arresting children is simply not an effective or just approach to preventing violence before it occurs.

We already heard testimony today that the task force only made arrests in approximately 50% of cases. But based on recent reporting by The City, only 15% of that 50% even resulted in a hate crimes conviction — just 87 people over 5 years.

One of the nice things about a long hearing is that I had time to do some rough back of the napkin math — based on what we heard from the NYPD earlier, in that same 5 year period we would have spent approximately $20,460,000 on the Hate Crimes Taskforce.

Compare that to the embarrassingly tiny amount the city is spending on OPHC, the Hate Crimes Prevention Initiative, and Hope Against Hate and you’ll see that truly effective hate violence prevention at the community level has been wildly under-resourced in our city, and the Jewish community, the Asian community, and all New Yorkers have been short changed.

In addition, many of the communities most directly impacted by hate violence — immigrants, undocumented New Yorkers, Trans New Yorkers, Black New Yorkers, and other — are also least likely to contact the NYPD, for understandable reasons.

Resourcing the NYPD at the expense of community-based prevention is especially frustrating since data shows that hate crimes laws do not deter violence. According to research by the Movement Advancement Project, “...hate crime laws’ harsher punishments have not been shown to deter hate violence.” In addition, hate crimes enforcement is plagued by the same racial disparities that define the rest of our criminal legal system. The same report reveals that “the majority of all hate crimes are committed by white people…. Yet, data show that hate crimes reported by state law enforcement are disproportionately listed as having Black perpetrators.”

While the mayor’s office did provide some additional funding through the PATH Forward program last year, and Deborah Lauter and Hassan Naveed have been fantastic partners at the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes, hate crime prevention is still massively underfunded.

The city’s current budget priorities are not a serious response to the terrible problem we face. We are seeking an expansion of funding for programs like the Hate Crimes Prevention Initiative and Hope Against Hate to resource education, prevention and community building, and other non-carceral approaches that actually make our communities safer.

Thank you, Chair Hanks, for the opportunity to testify. Shabbat Shalom.