Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, elected officials and community leaders from across the spectrum of religion, race and ethnicity gathered at Queens Borough Hall on May 26 for a Unity Rally to denounce the continuing rise in hate crimes toward the Asian, Jewish and Muslim American communities.
Deputy Borough President Rhonda Binda opened the rally, pointing out that Queens, the “World’s Borough,” is home to immigrants from over 190 countries and that this diversity is the borough’s “greatest asset.”
“So there’s no place for hate. There’s no place for violence,” Binda said.
She then introduced Richards, applauding his continuing endeavor of “bringing people of all backgrounds, all ethnicities, together.”
Richards described the gathering, which was held one day after the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, as a solemn occasion and said it was “deeply upsetting that we have to gather here yet again because the hate won’t stop.”
Referring to the many times the elected officials and community leaders and members have gathered in recent months, rallying against the rise in racist attacks, Richards said, “I’m simply getting tired of it. But I know, just as Dr. King said, we have to keep marching on.”
“We’re here to continue to stand against hate,” Richards said. “We can never get too tired to stand up against hate.”
Richards called out the attack on a 35-year-old Asian American man who was pushed onto the subway tracks on May 24, and the wave of anti-Semitic attacks in Brooklyn in recent days.
“People simply being attacked for who they are. Whether you are Asian, Jewish, Black, Muslim, you belong here,” Richards said. Pointing to the leaders beside him, he continued, “This is what diversity looks like. We understand our diversity is our strength.”
He shared that his office has called for additional funding of the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes and that his office continued to partner with the New York Commission on Human Rights, the Queens district attorney’s office and the NYPD.
“We cannot and will not let this rise in hate and bias attacks tear us down, nor will we let it divide us,” Richards said. “Because we know that’s what the haters want. Hate flourishes when we do not have togetherness. But I refuse to let us be split.”
Rabbi Mark Kaiserman of The Reform Temple of Forest Hills invoked a passage from the Bible that states that all are created in God’s image, regardless of religion or ethnicity.
“When you attack another person, you are attacking God,” Rabbi Kaiserman said. “When you hate another person for being different, you are hating yourself.”
Professor Madhulika S. Khandelwal, director of the Asian/American Center at Queens College, said she understood that some residents might be concerned when they see their neighborhood changing.
“But to blame some people for that is more than ignorance. It is like really saying that ‘you don’t belong here.’ We belong here,” Khandelwal said.
Wayne Ho, president and CEO of the Chinese American Planning Council, the largest Asian American social services nonprofit serving 60,000 New Yorkers each year, shared that his staff was on the front line during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and risked their lives serving the community. Yet, they became victims of hate crimes — they were spat on and had objects and insults hurled at them.
“Every New Yorker must have safety and dignity and belonging, where they work, study, play, live and worship,” Ho said. “This is the time — not for divisiveness — this is the time for us to have unity.”
Rabbi Ashie Schreier of the Young Israel of Forest Hills thanked elected officials and the NYPD for their continuing efforts to keep communities safe during the “wave of hate” and condemned all forms of bias attacks.
Referring to his synagogue, he said, “We are a place of openness. We love everybody, and we want to make sure that everyone feels safe in every capacity.”
Satnam Singh Parhar, acting president and chair of South Asian American Voice and candidate for City Council District 23, said his community was afraid because of the rise in hate crimes and asked everyone to “start working together to grow toward peace and positivity.”
Councilman Barry Grodenchik had a simple message for “the haters.”
“You lost,” Grodenchik said. “We live together. We go to school together. We ride the bus, the subway and the Long Island Rail Road together. We play together in the parks. Our kids go to school together. And sometimes we fall in love with each other. And we are not going away,” Grodenchik promised.
Tazmin Uddin, youth program director of Turning Point for Women and Families, introduced herself as the proud daughter of immigrants. She called the substantial increase in hate crimes in New York City “unacceptable,” citing NYPD statistics of 191 reported hate crimes in 2021 alone. Uddin encouraged community members to look out for each other.
“Communities like mine, the Asian, Muslim, Sikh or Jewish communities, are all too familiar with the fear, the trauma, the uncertainty, the hyper-vigilance that comes with being under attack,” Uddin said. “Their emotional and mental health impact of dealing with hate is very real.”
Assemblyman David Weprin also pointed to the diversity of the elected officials and community leaders at the Unity Rally.
“This is what Queens looks like,” Weprin said.
Weprin, a candidate for comptroller, stressed that it was important to come together every time hate “rears its ugly head” and recognize that “a hate crime against any one of us is really a hate crime against all of us.”
Michael Nussbaum, the president of the Jewish Community Council, shared an “inconvenient truth” — an uncomfortable truth people needed to hear.
Nussbaum, the son of Eastern European Jewish immigrants who escaped the Holocaust while some of his family members perished in the concentration camps, said that there’s “something about the human condition that breeds hate,” but it’s taught that children are not born with hate in their DNA; “they are taught hate.”
He called out Republicans and Democrats for not condemning the divisive rhetoric coming from both parties.
“Whenever elected officials, who are looked upon as leaders, spew venom and hatred, and other elected officials don’t call them out, they are complicit in that hate,” Nussbaum said. “When one person spews hate against a nation or against an individual, or claims incorrectly what happens in the world, it incites people to hate.”
He emphasized that he’ll march with any group that faces racist attacks.
“I will march with anyone, and bring the Jewish community to you, to your mosques, to your temples, to your homes, because I expect that you will do it with me,” Nussbaum said.
Councilman James Gennaro followed up on the remarks made by Michael Nussbaum and said that the country needed more leaders like Richards who bring people together, and underlined that if comments made by political leaders could be interpreted as hateful, “you’re not doing your job.”
He said that hate starts at home.
“We can’t replace what goes on in the home,” Gennaro said. “So we here as leaders have to be more like Donovan and more like the people here, and teach a message.”
Dr. John Boyd II, the senior pastor of the New Greater Bethel Ministries, called on everyone to “put away the flames of separation” and to declare “a new season in time to join together to make the community of Queens, the ‘World’s Borough,’ a place of harmony, love and peace.”
Speaking on behalf of the LGBTQI+ community, Brendan Fay, the founder of the LGBT group Lavender and Green Alliance and St. Pat’s for All, said that New York has a history of hate, bias and prejudice.
But, Fay added that life in New York City compels people to leave the comfort of “old, tired ways” and to embrace the city’s diversity.
“Together, let us remove hate from our hearts, guns from our streets, prejudice from our curriculum,” Fay said. “We are shaped by this beautiful city of New York, as the city of hope and possibility. We commit to helping our city.”