In an incredible show of strength and solidarity for the Hindu-American community, Mayor Eric Adams joined state Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, local elected officials and interfaith leaders at the Shri Tulsi Mandir in South Richmond Hill on Wednesday, Aug. 24, to address hate crimes against the community after the mandir’s statue of Mahatma Gandhi was vandalized twice this month.
The first vandalism occurred on Aug. 3, when a group of individuals toppled the statue outside of the mandir. Less than two weeks later, a different group of individuals destroyed the statue with a sledgehammer and spray-painted derogatory remarks, as well as the temple grounds and street.
Standing in front of the Shri Tulsi Mandir, located at 103-24 111th St., Adams said that they’re committed to ensuring that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
“Hate has no place in Richmond Hill. Hate has no place in New York City. Hate has no place in our country,” Adams said. “We are not going to stand back and allow attacks on our houses of worship. They play a crucial role in closing the gap between government and the needs of people. We will not allow an individual to participate in this hate going unapprehended. [But] there’s another road. There’s a road that goes far beyond the law enforcement arm. The goal is not only responding to hate but preventing hate … We’re going to zero in on our classes. We are going to encourage you to participate in our ‘Breaking Bread, Building Bonds’ 100 dinners across the city … [people] all coming from a different background, talking to each other, sharing who we are, why we do what we do.”
New Yorkers stand united. No matter our background, our zip code, class, race or creed, we reject hate. Join us now in Richmond Hill. https://t.co/lZ5VBoSBXm
— Mayor Eric Adams (@NYCMayor) August 24, 2022
Following the second attack on the Gandhi statue, the NYPD 106th Precinct released surveillance footage of a group of five males who are wanted in connection with the crime.
According to Commanding Officer Andrew Arias of the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force, the investigation remains ongoing, as the NYPD is working together with its public and private partners to ensure justice is achieved in the strongest prosecution possible.
“The NYPD is here to say that we will never tolerate hate or violence of any kind here in New York City,” Arias said. “The NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force, with its cadre of seasoned investigators, is analyzing all of the evidence, developing probative leads and utilizing technology to steer the investigation to successful closure.”
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz reiterated that there is zero tolerance for hate in the “World’s Borough.”
“You spew hate, we come together as a community to say that we will not tolerate it. You act in a criminal behavior because of where someone hails from or because of their religion, I hold them accountable,” Katz said. “If you commit a hate crime, the community will stand together no matter who it’s against. We stand together as one in Queens County.”
Pandit Lakhram Maharaj, founder of the Shri Tulsi Mandir, thanked everyone locally and abroad for their outpouring of support following the desecration of the mandir.
“Our skin color might be different, but the blood that runs through our veins is the same,” Maharaj said. “Our religion may be different but we are worshiping the same God. Hate does not have any role in this community, and in this country. Mahatma Gandhi teaches us that if you want to have change within this universe, you should be the change that you want to see onto everyone.”
Richmond Hill resident Romeo Hitlall, from the Federation of Hindu Mandirs, said they have received “extraordinary love” from faith leaders in the Sikh, Jewish and Muslim communities.
“Hindus are inclusive, peaceful and loving. The Gandhi statue may be gone but we will carry Gandhi’s message of peace, love and hope to our city, state and our country. We are Hindu and we are proud Americans. Today, our community glows in the spotlight and the sky’s the limit for the Hindu community and our children.”
Nikunj Trivedi, president of the Coalition of Hindus of North America, said they’re seeing a surge in “Hinduphobia and anti-Hindu hate crimes, including the desecration of Gandhi statues and attacks on Hindu public officials in multiple places.”
Since the targeting of the Gandhi statue and the mandir, Rajkumar said they’re committed to re-doubling their efforts to combat anti-Hindu hate in the communities.
“We are at a time of crisis as hate crimes are up 125%. Hate crimes against Asian Americans are up 100%, and that includes anti-Hindu hate,” said Rajkumar, who noted members of the Sikh, Muslim and Hindu community that have been attacked for their faith in her district. “This kind of hate will not happen in my district, not in my backyard, and not on my watch. Gandhi always said that love will overcome hate. With the outpouring support today from leaders across the city and nation, I know that Gandhi is right.”
Local elected officials such as Councilwoman Joann Ariola, Senator James Sanders Jr. and Assembly members David Weprin and Khaleel Anderson delivered remarks at the press conference denouncing hate crimes.
“When you come and you desecrate a symbol of faith, it doesn’t cause people to stop praying. It makes people pray more,” Ariola said. “It doesn’t cause us to have fear, it makes us stronger. It doesn’t cause us to separate, it makes us bind together. So your mission is a failure. And it will be further a failure when you are caught, arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated. I have been blessed at this Temple. And no matter what, I will stand with you — in front of you, in back of you, on either side of you — fighting hatred. Because hatred can only be fought with love, and that’s what we see here.
According to Anderson, it’s important for everyone in the community to stand united against hate.
“This moment can create a movement towards that love and unity. We can be safer as a community together if we uplift our brothers and sisters in their moment of need,” Anderson said. “We need to ensure that they feel loved, represented and protected.”
Weprin said “vandalism, threats or intimidation against any of our places of worship will never be tolerated.”
“I do not come from a Hindu background, but I view this vandalism as if it were an attack on my own synagogue. Mahatma Gandhi was a dedicated servant of peace in the face of violence — we must embody his values and stand in solidarity with the attendees of Tulsi Mandir and our neighbors in the Hindu community,” Weprin said.
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said “hate has no place in Queens.”
“Hateful acts like the disgraceful vandalism that took place at the Shri Tulsi Mandir will not be tolerated here. Queens is called the ‘World’s Borough’ because we respect the many different cultures of our residents. So when an act of hate is committed against one group, our entire borough stands together as one community in denouncing the hate,” Richards said.
City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, who represents Richmond Hill, said she is horrified that the statue of Gandhi was vandalized for the second time.
“Hate has no place in our community, Queens or New York City. I join my colleagues, community and faith leaders to unequivocally denounce these troubling acts of hate,” Adams said. “As a city, we must root out hate with love and acceptance. The Council will continue to invest in preventing hate crimes and supporting the communities, like mine, that too often experience it. We will continue working together in unity for the safer communities we all want.”