A new police unit will seek out racially motivated extremism before it occurs, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday one day after the anti-Semitic attack in Jersey City that left six people dead.
The mayor announced the unit’s operations during an emotional City Hall press conference on Dec. 11 surrounded by members of the Jewish community, flanked by NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea and his new Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison.
The new unit within the department’s intelligence division, to be known as “Racially and Ethnically Motivated Extremism,” or “R.E.M.E,” will be dedicated to investigating threats from both foreign and domestic neo-Nazi, and white supremacist organizations such as the Aryan Brotherhood, Proud Boys, the White Aryan Resistance to name a few. The 25 member unit will work closely with the detective division’s Hate Crime Task Force and Counter Terrorism division to both track down and prevent attacks by extremists before they occur.
The mayor said the unit started operations in November, but was announced at this time because of the racially-motivated Jersey City attack Tuesday.
Shea said that despite the attack in Jersey City, there is “no known nexus at this time between the attack in Jersey City and New York,” but he said the department is taking no chances. The NYPD is beefing up counter-terrorism police presence at synagogues and Jewish gathering places around the city.
He said the department has become very concerned about a marked increase in hate crimes in the city, especially in Brooklyn where a vast majority of orthodox Jews live.
Shea said he is very disturbed by an increase in hate crimes in the city, most especially against Jews in Brooklyn.
There were 309 anti-Semitic crimes in the city through the third quarter of this year, up from 144 over the previous 12 months. There were also 127 arrests for various hate crime offenses.
“Most of the attacks are not physical assaults, but rather knocking off hats, pulling off wigs or cars pulling up to young Jewish children walking home from prayer – it’s really a systematic lack of respect and ignorance,” Shea said.
De Blasio said they are pursuing three strategies to fight hate crimes through law enforcement, community relations and education. Recently, he formed the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes, calling the problem, “the new normal.”
“We feel a lot of pain but we have to understand why this is an emergency – it confirms the sad truth that there is a crisis of anti-Semitism gripping this nation and in this city, and it has continued to take on more and more violent forms all over this country,” de Blasio said. “Now we have seen this extraordinary extreme violence reach the doorstep of New York City and we must take it as a warning sign. People are living in constant fear – they no longer feel comfortable wearing anything that is a symbol of their faith for fear of attack. unacceptable for any faith, any background, the city is meant to be for everyone, national problem, but it is here now.”
Rabbi David Niederman of the Satmar Jewish community in Williamsburg said some Jewish people moved to New Jersey because it was too expensive to live in the city, including the family of Leah Mindel Ferencz, who with Moshe Deutsch, were both killed in Jersey City. They will be burying Deutsch tonight as per Jewish custom.
“Mindel Ferencz was among the first of the community to move to Jersey City who could not afford a home for her family so they said, ‘Let’s go to where it’s cheaper; I’ll be an example,’” Rabbi Niederman said. “So they opened a grocery store, people can shop locally and they alleviated the pain of thousands of families in unbearable conditions. What are we telling three children, how do we explain that, how long will they live the scars?”
Devorah Halberstam of Crown Heights lost her young son Ari 25 years ago to a terrorist attack on the Brooklyn Bridge that targeted the bus her son was on because they were Jewish.
“I’m very upset about what happened and am I surprised – now as I’ve been speaking very strongly about this for some time – it begins with swastikas and doesn’t end with that. That’s how violence begins, begins with small things,” she said.
“At the time, what happened to my son was looked at as an isolated event, tied to international terrorism. I can’t believe I’m living in times like this – I’m shocked this is going on in my lifetime.”
Mayor de Blasio read the names of the victims of the Jersey City attack and called a moment of silence.
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik of the New York Board of Rabbis was stoic about the attack and the efforts to stop hate crimes.
“When we said never again, did we say it with a period, or a question mark?” he sighed.