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After hate crime wave, residents start a discussion

Outisde the home of a Hindu family in Woodhaven after an arson attack earlier this month, Rev. Alfonso Wyatt of the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral was one of several leaders who spoke about the need to unite against hate crimes.
Photo by Michael Shain
By Sadef Ali Kully

Residents from Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Jewish religious backgrounds met last week at the Bosnian Community Center in Richmond Hill to compare notes on the recent wave of hate incidents across the city.

In Queens, the most recent attack was on a Muslim man, a grocery clerk at Fatima Food Mart in Astoria, where a Florida man shouting “I’ll kill Muslims”allegedly struck him, according to police.

In Woodhaven, an arsonist burned traditional religious flags that had been placed outside of a Hindu family’s home. Police were still looking for the perpetrator, authorities said.

Mohammad Hack, community liaison for Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, organized the interfaith safety and security discussion with leaders from across the borough. He said many victims do not report crimes and that minority communities needed to realize there are resources and people in place to help.

The NYPD Hate Crime Unit, along with 102nd Precinct Captain Thomas Molly and 106th Precinct Deputy Inspector Jeffrey Schiff spoke to the group about what constitutes a hate crime and what to do when a person becomes a victim.

“It isn’t enough to say that it is a hate crime. Detectives have to find the motivation behind the crime,” NYPD Hate Crime Unit Sergeant Patrick Rodrigo said.

Rodrigo explained hate speech plus a true threat equaled criminality.

“If someone is making a threat and has a weapon in their hand like a pipe, then it becomes criminal,” he said.

But he cautioned that if a person makes offensive speech relating to religion, race or for any other reason, that does in and of itself constitute a crime.

Many worried about their children and how to deal with harassment rather than waiting for an actual crime to take place.

Concerned parents and residents do have something to worry about, despite a 43 percent decrease in hate crimes across the city, according to the NYPD. Last year 23 hate crimes were reported across the city, the second-highest total since 2001, when 97 hate crimes were reported.

So far this year the total number of hate crimes was 13, according to the most recent data from the NYPD.

Sisters Haleema Yasin from Ozone Park and Nazeema Sharif from Richmond Hill, both from a West Indian and Muslim background, have not faced any direct racist attacks.

Sharif, who wears a hijab, said one time on a subway ride home a Christian preacher called her the devil and tried to incite the commuters but no one fell for the hate speech.

Haleema said she was happy to come the event and see leaders of all faiths in place and showing support for the same cause, “It is important to see togetherness—it doesn’t make you feel alone.”

Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skully@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4546.

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