Fighting hate crime with education

In the wake of numerous highly-publicized hate crimes on Long Island, community leaders are advocating for more education to prevent future incidents.

The Nassau County District Attorney’s office created a special unit on Feb. 27 specifically to prosecute hate crimes. Caryn Stepner, chief of the new hate crimes unit, is hoping to bring attention to the problem before it escalates further.

“We’re trying to educate the community that hate and prejudice biases are not appropriate and specifically if they use hate or bias in committing a crime, then the exposure and their punishment could be enhanced,” Stepner said.

New York State ranks fourth in the country in terms of total hate crimes, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Even though the Nassau County Police Department reported in March that crimes in Nassau County are decreasing, Stepner said 56 hate crimes were reported in the county last year. Forty-two of these were anti-Semitic. Currently, the unit has eight felony cases pending; four people have been indicted. Crimes involving prejudice are punished more severely by being upgraded from a misdemeanor to a felony.

“We’re trying to get people to appreciate the fact that there’s no place for it. If they do commit a crime based on race, bias, or hate, that the punishment is going to be higher,” said Stepner.

Nassau County has been victimized by several anti-semitic crimes in recent months. In February, the Mid Island Y Jewish Community Center in Plainview received a bomb threat and a car was spray-painted with swastikas in Mineola last December.  

“The climate, in general, is a very tough one at the present time. It’s something both government and society must take very seriously,” said Rabbi Anchelle Perl from the Congregation Beth Sholom Chabad in Mineola.

Perl participated in a program with two minors involved with anti-Semitic hate crimes. The minors were required to visit the Holocaust Memorial Center in Glen…

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