NYCC Public Safety Committee Hearing

Testimony of Leo Ferguson, Jews for Racial & Economic Justice

May 3, 2022

Good afternoon, Chairs Hanks and Williams, 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 diverse NYC Against Hate Coalition.

Two weeks ago, we got NYPD’s Q1 hate crimes data and it is deeply disturbing. Hate crimes have increased 76% compared to the same period last year. Just looking at the two communities that I am personally a part of — bias crimes against Black New Yorkers have doubled, and the number of anti-Jewish incidents this year is on pace to far exceed last year.

It has been five years since the rise of the modern white nationalist movement, and we are four years into New York City’s hate violence crisis. Two mayoral administrations, two police commissioners, two council speakers, and many other officials have proclaimed “zero tolerance,” and the city has spent tens of millions of dollars operating and expanding the NYPD hate crimes task force. But in that five year period, there have been only 87 hate crime convictions in New York City. And the hate crime rate continues to go up.

One thing is crystal clear — our current strategy of policing and prosecutions is not working.

In fact, research shows that hate crimes laws have no deterrent effect. The law enforcement approach to fighting hate violence has officers running around the city, looking for individual perpetrators who, according to the NYPD’s own testimony, have a 50–70% chance of getting away with their crimes.

I’ll say it again — our current strategy of policing and prosecutions is not working. We cannot continue to do the same thing, and expect a different result.

An effective hate violence prevention strategy must instead begin within the communities that are being targeted and address the factors that lead to bias incidents.

This approach includes culturally competent and socially responsive diversity education for all ages; building robust, active ties between communities to cultivate shared interests and responsibility; upstander intervention training; community-based reporting of hate violence incidents; and community care, including community-led transformative justice processes as well as counseling and peer support services for survivors of violence.

The good news is that we have extraordinary community organizations that have been doing this work for years, and are eager — in fact desperate — for the resources to do this work in our communities

The bad news is that community-based hate violence prevention in New York City has been wildly under-resourced. In the midst of an ongoing hate violence crisis, NYC Against Hate has had to fight every year to get even modest investments in non-policing approaches to hate violence prevention. While we appreciate the funding we have received, it should be obvious that $2–$4 million dollars, divided between many organizations, is not adequate to address a major crisis in a city of 8.5 million people.

We are calling on this city council to finally say, “enough is enough,” and take hate violence prevention seriously.

We applaud the City Council’s proposal to increase Hate Crime Prevention and AAPI Community Support initiatives funding in FY23. HCPI provides resources to community-based organizations to engage in culturally-competent hate violence prevention and education. We request that the council increase HCPI funding to $5 million, and further increase funding for the AAPI Community Support Initiative.

Hope Against Hate is the Asian American Federation’s comprehensive response to the brutal wave of anti-Asian violence rocking New York City. We ask that the council fully fund this critical program at $10 million.

We call on Mayor Adams to increase funding for his P.A.T.H. Forward program to $10 million, directed to the same experienced anchor organizations so that they can build on the program’s successes to date.

Finally, success will necessarily include addressing the same social and public health harms and lack of resources that fuel all violence and prevent our communities from thriving. High-quality, universal health care, mental health care, and guaranteed supportive housing are the essential preconditions for healthy, safe, thriving communities. Continuing to fund a failed hate crimes policing and prosecution strategy to the detriment of these investments is a tragic waste of resources.

It is past time for the mayor and the city council to take hate violence prevention seriously and invest in a rigorous, community-based approach, shaped and driven by the needs of the diverse array of communities who are directly impacted by this tragic violence.

Thank you, Chairs Hanks and Williams, for the opportunity to testify.