Governor, lawmakers taking steps to calm students and constituents
On the same day Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent a letter to every college student in the state to calm their fears about post-election hate crimes, Vadim Imperioli was allegedly spray painting a swastika on a dorm bulletin board at SUNY Purchase.
Imperioli, the son of Sopranos star Michael Imperioli who is a film student there, was in court earlier this week to address an unrelated charge when the incident was brought up in the legal proceedings, according to widespread media reports. In the same week, the phrase “Black Lives Don’t Matter” was also found spray painted on campus, and police are still investigating that incident.
This marks the third known hate crime on a SUNY campus in just a three-week span. On November 10, at SUNY New Paltz, the phrase “Isis is calling, Muslims can leave” was scrawled in a women’s bathroom in Bouton Hall. On Nov. 11, a swastika was found in a common area of Nassau Hall — a dorm on the SUNY Geneseo campus — by a resident assistant.
On November 20 Cuomo sent a letter to both public and private college students to assure them racist graffiti and attacks — prevalent nationwide since Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton on November 8 — would not be condoned in New York.
“After the harsh and ugly rhetoric of the campaign, many of you are concerned about what might happen next,” Cuomo’s letter begins. “Let me be clear: This is the state of New York, not a state of fear. We will not tolerate hate or racism.
“We have been and always will be a place where people of many backgrounds have come to seek freedom and opportunity. Almost all who live here can trace their roots to someplace else,” the letter continues.
“We cherish our diversity. We find strength in our differences. Whether you are gay or straight, Muslim or Christian or Jewish or Buddhist, rich or poor, black or white or Latino or Asian, man or woman, cisgender or transgender, we respect all people in the state of New York.”
Racist incidents have been reported across New York, not just on SUNY campuses.
On November 9, a photo surfaced of a black baby doll with an apparent noose around its neck in an elevator of Frisch Hall, a dormitory on the Canisius College campus in Buffalo. That story was reported in national media such as USA Today and CNN .
That same day, in the Village of Wellsville in Allegany County, someone spray painted a large swastika with the words “Make America White Again” on the back of a dugout at a softball field.
More recently, on December 5, a uniformed off-duty Muslim New York City Transit employee on her way to work was assaulted by a male passenger at Grand Central Terminal. After exiting the 7 Train in the station, the suspect allegedly called the station agent a “terrorist” and pushed her down the stairs, injuring both her ankle and knee.
That incident follows a wave of bias events targeting the MTA since the presidential election, according to the Governor’s Office. For example, on December 3, a No. 1 Train was found to have been vandalized, with multiple swastikas spray painted on its interior. And the week before that, KKK fliers and business cards were distributed at the Patchogue and Hampton Bay Stations on the Long Island Rail Road.
The governor has directed the State Police to create a new Hate Crimes Unit to investigate and offer assistance to other police agencies investigating potential hate crimes. The unit will consist of investigators from across the state who have been trained as bias crime specialists and it will coordinate with local district attorneys to provide necessary support during the prosecution of hate crime cases.
A toll-free hotline — (888) 392-3644 — has also been established so victims and witnesses can report hate crimes.
Under state law, a person commits a hate crime when someone targets a victim because of their race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation.
Hate crimes can be perpetrated against an individual, a group of individuals or against public or private property. Also under state law it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, religion, ethnicity and many other protected classifications.
State lawmakers have taken notice of the uptick in hate crimes since the election.
“The election of Donald Trump has led to wide sweeping fear among the immigrant community including the neighborhoods I represent,” said Assemblyman Francisco Moya, D-Queens. “In these dire times … it is imperative that we in state government provide every resource and protection we can to those targeted.”
Sen. Jose Peralta has scheduled town hall meetings in his district to meet with constituents about how to deal with racism, discrimination, sexism and hate crimes.
“Hatred has no place in our backyard, no place in our city, and no place in our country,” said Sen Daniel Squadron, D-Carroll Gardens, whose office was involved in cleaning up hate graffiti in a Brooklyn Heights park named after Beastie Boys member Adam Yauch, who died in 2012.
On November 18, Squadron’s office received a call from a constituent regarding multiple swastikas and the message “Go Trump” appearing on playground equipment in the park. The constituent and Squadron’s office connected with the New York City Police Department and the Parks Department, who quickly removed the hate messages and are investigating the incident.
“Anyone who thinks the current political climate will allow oppression to win in this country is wrong. The swastika represents genocide and monstrosities our nation came together to defeat,” Squadron said. “Brooklyn’s diversity represents our country’s great strengths, and we will stand up to any who want to undermine its values.”
Additionally, as a result of the increased prevalence of these incidents in schools, the governor sent a letter to State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, requesting the State Education Department immediately require schools to hold training programs for staff and students to reinforce the strong anti-discrimination provisions included within the state Human Rights Law and Dignity for All Students Act, as well as underscore the importance of reporting any criminal discriminatory behavior to law enforcement.
The United University Professions, which represents 35,000 faculty and staff on 29 SUNY campuses, issued a statement condemning the recent graffiti. The union’s executive board also unanimously approved a resolution that “calls upon our campuses, communities, and our nation to come together in vigilant support of inclusion, of pluralism and of diversity.”
The Anti-Defamation League also signaled support for Cuomo’s recent actions.
“All state leaders should … make clear that this current troubling trend of hate we are seeing will not be tolerated and does not define our communities,” said the ADL’s CEO and National Director, Jonathan Greenblatt.
So far, no one has been arrested or charged in the Geneseo and New Paltz incidents, and SUNY Purchase has not issued a statement regarding the graffiti on its campus, or the role Imperioli may have played, if any, in that case.
The Governor’s Office has said it will advance legislation that expands state Human Rights Law protections to all students statewide. Under current law, only private school students are protected by the Human Rights Law, meaning that if a public school student is discriminated against in school, that student has no claim.
“We are one community, and the diversity is our beauty, and is our asset. We’re black, we’re white, we’re brown, we’re gay, we’re straight, you put all of that together,” Cuomo said, “we’re Christians, we’re Muslims, we’re Jews. You put all of that together, and it’s called America, and it’s called the state of New York.”