Recent hate crimes spur return to old ideals

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

The document itself may be over 300 years old, but the message it conveys is timeless.

Public officials united to breathe life back into the Flushing Remonstrance — a historic petition dated back to 1657 when Peter Stuyvesant and a group of citizens protested prohibitions against religious freedom — in light of recent anti-Semitic vandalisms that have rocked the borough.

On November 3, six swastikas were spray painted in four locations across East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, including the Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst branches of the Queens Library, the doors of the Congregation Tifereth Israel and St. Joan of Arc Church in Jackson Heights.

“Hate crimes — whether they be motivated by sexual orientation, gender, religion or ethnicity — will not be tolerated,” said District Attorney Richard A. Brown. “When they do regrettably occur, they will be condemned in the strongest possible terms and those responsible will be brought to justice to answer for their actions.”

Franco Rodriguez, a 40-year-old Hispanic male, was arrested on November 11 and charged with four counts of criminal mischief as a hate crime in connection with the vandalisms, according to police.

“Acts like these cannot go unremarked and must be condemned,” said Councilmember Peter Koo. “Nobody should think they can get away with hateful actions like these. These venomous people succeed only when our communities stay silent.”

Dozens of elected officials and religious leaders gathered at Flushing Town Hall on November 23 to speak out and remind the borough’s diverse residents of the Remonstrance’s ideals of tolerance and acceptance.

Mirroring their early colonial predecessors, they each signed the renewed, modernized document, titled “A Pledge for Tolerance and Understanding,” vowed to stand together against those who threaten the ideals of acceptance, and hoped the multiethnic community would soon follow.

Queens Courier publisher Victoria Schneps-Yunis said that The Courier was instrumental in bringing the original Remonstrance home to Queens in the late 90s.

“I have so much confidence in the human spirit,” said Borough President Helen Marshall. “Yes, there are some bad eggs out there, but everybody’s not bad. We have a great borough. We have space in our hearts and minds to care for our brothers and sisters, no matter who they are.”

Among those in attendance were Assemblymembers Grace Meng, Ed Braunstein, Michael DenDekker, Michael Simanowitz and Rory Lancman, Senator Jose Peralta, Councilmembers Leroy Comrie and Peter Koo and Reverend Floyd Flake.