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Hate Crime

Nissequogue River. File photo by Rita J. Egan

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is calling for state police officers to investigate who is behind anti-Semitic graffiti discovered in Nissequogue River State Park.

A photo of the swastika discovered in Nissequogue River State Park. Photo from NYS PD

New York State police received a call Feb. 10 from a jogger who discovered a swastika and a hateful white supremacist slogan written in chalk along the bike path in Kings Park.

“This abhorrent act of hate is deeply disturbing, especially at a time of great division and in the wake of the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in this nation’s history,” Cuomo said.

The governor’s remarks referenced the shooting at The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018 that killed 11 people.

“The message is deeply troubling to those who live in Kings Park community and all those who continue the fight against hated,” state Sen. John Flanagan (R-Smithtown) said in a statement. “I want to make it clear that all elected officials and community leaders are united in saying that hateful symbols must never be tolerated and those responsible must and will be held accountable for their actions.

The state police’s Hate Crimes Unit is investigating the matter. Anyone who may have any information on the vandalism is asked to call 631-756-3300.

Rocky Point mother Robin Siefert is upset nothing was done after her 9-year-old daughter found a note on her desk containing several expletives (which have been removed from the photo), a swastika and Adolf Hitler’s name. Photo from Robin Siefert

Not long after Rocky Point mother Robin Siefert spoke to the school board about an anti-Semitic note left on her 9-year-old daughter’s desk March 23 at Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) picked up the phone.

Zeldin, one of two Jewish Republicans in Congress, has 10-year-old twin daughters and reached out to Siefert as soon as he got wind of her situation, saying, “It hit very close to home.”

Rocky Point mother Robin Siefert is upset nothing was done after her 9-year-old daughter found a note on her desk containing hate speech. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I wanted to see if there was anything I could do to assist,” Zeldin, a regular at the school’s annual Veterans Day assembly, said after his call with Siefert. “I could tell I was talking to a very loving mother passionately advocating for her daughter, and trying to be strong through a challenge that negatively impacted a young, innocent child.”

He said he felt it was important the issue be combated aggressively at its source, saying someone who draws a swastika may be inclined to do it again, or more, in the future.

“There can’t really be a tolerance for it, or it’s only going to grow,” he said.

Siefert, who will be meeting with the board again in executive session May 16, said of Zeldin’s call, “It was just very nice to know my congressman cared about the situation … I have a lot of gratitude. I still can’t believe this happened to my child, but [she’s] starting to get a little better.”

The note in question, written by a classmate of Siefert’s daughter, included three obscenities, a swastika and Adolf Hitler’s name.

Siefert argued during a board meeting April 19 that not enough was done at the administrative level to comfort her daughter, inform the parents of the incident or find the student responsible for the note.

According to Rocky Point school district superintendent, Michael Ring, a thorough investigation has been conducted since the March 23 incident occurred, and there’s been transparency between school and parents.

“The police were contacted by the district regarding the matter and information provided thereon,” Ring wrote in an email. “Parents of all students in the class were contacted by the teacher at the time of the incident. Counselors have gone into the classroom to speak about tolerance, acceptance and respect. None of this was done in response to Mrs. Siefert speaking at the [board of education] meeting. All of this was put into place after and as a result of the incident, which the school and district took very seriously.”

Conversely, Siefert said, “This is all because I went in front of the board and said what I said. All these things happened after I spoke.”

Ring noted the school has continued to employ all its existing and ongoing character education and anti-bullying initiatives, including Six Pillars of Character and Social Skills/Friendship Groups and Caring Connections.

He said as recent as May 9, officers in the Suffolk County Police Department conducted an anti-bullying presentation to all grades at Joseph A. Edgar.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin reached out to a Rocky Point mom over an anti-Semitic note her daughter received. File photo

“I’m glad they’re being proactive now,” said Siefert, who claims she, not the school, was the one who filed a police report after the incident. “But I’d be much happier if the kid who did this to my daughter was put in counseling and punished appropriately.”

Zeldin agreed. According to his staff, the district’s efforts to find the student responsible were outlined, but ultimately the district, as well as police, believe “there is not enough evidence to take action.”

It will, however, “continue to follow proper protocol and work with the family on this case.”

“In alignment with our anti-harassment and code of conduct policies, proven instances of bullying are treated extremely seriously and age-appropriate discipline is put in place in response to such incidents,” Ring wrote. “This is a continuing investigation.”

On April 24, Linda Towlen, principal at Joseph A. Edgar, sent a letter to parents of students in a fifth-grade class informing them of an April 21 incident where small swastikas were found on a bathroom sign-out sheet.

According to the letter, “a thorough investigation has been undertaken to determine the source of these unacceptable symbols” and “as is our protocol … the Suffolk County Police were notified and a report filed.”

After this most recent incident, the school implemented the Second Step program in the classroom that deals with bullying and teasing.

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Stock photo

Schools are not immune to intolerance and violence, and school district administration shouldn’t be turning a blind eye and leave hate crime behavior unanswered.

Last week, several parents were up in arms at a Rocky Point board of education meeting due to a lack of communication between the school and parents. One mother reached out to administrators last month when her daughter found a note on her desk that had been covered in animosity. On the Post-It were various obscenities, a swastika and Adolf Hitler’s name. Robin Siefert’s 9-year-old daughter, the only Jewish student in her fourth-grade class at Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School, has been crying every day as a result of the event, according to her mother. Another student was also called the N-word after he did well during a basketball game. The student, in the latter instance, was reported but bragged to the other student that he hadn’t gotten in trouble.

The fact that a school district had been confronted with evidence and no serious action was taken to find out who the student is that left the note, and no disciplinary action was given to the student using the N-word is concerning. This type of behavior is not conducive to a harmonious student body and does not set a good example or precedent for future issues.

As Siefert noted, there are no strict guidelines for the school to follow, so the district is already at a disadvantage, but that gives the district the opportunity to create new protocol and react proactively to these incidents.

Since the children are in elementary school, this also raises concerns about parenting. Elementary students are young and malleable, whatever opinions they have can often be tracked back to their family.

According to an Anti-Defamation League report April 24, “the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the country was 86 percent higher than the same period last year” with about 541 attacks and threats between January and March.  With hatred and intolerance widespread following President Donald Trump’s (R) campaign and election, there’s a growing issue, and we shouldn’t be emboldening these children, but pulling out the magnifying glass and scrutinizing these behaviors and coming up with ways to solve the problem. We need to keep kids safe. We need to keep families safe.

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D) holds up signs kids made in support of peace. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Victoria Espinoza

The divisive nature of the 2016 presidential election is still affecting many Americans, and racist, anti-Semitic and other xenophobic actions have occurred in some communities.

Local legislators, police officers, school administrators and religious leaders gathered at the Tri Community Youth Association in Huntington Nov. 23 to preach inclusivity and acceptance after several hate-driven incidents were reported.

Two weeks ago, police said multiple swastikas were found spray painted on walls at Northport High School, and town officials said residents have reported hearing hateful language as well.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said parents and community members need to teach children the importance of accepting one another.

“One of these incidents is one too many,” he said during the Huntington event. “It’s our responsibility to speak out against it and educate our youth of the ramifications of such actions.”

A local rabbi holds up another sign encouraging unity. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
A local rabbi holds up another sign encouraging unity. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) echoed the sentiment.

“I want to take this opportunity to come together, to speak to our anxieties, our fears, our concerns that have been spurred by acts of predominantly ignorance,” Spencer said at the event. “We now have a new generation of young people that may not have experienced the Holocaust or the civil rights movement, and this call of unity is not speaking against acts for any particular group, but for all of us. Whether it’s with minorities, in the Jewish, Muslim, Christian community; this is condemning acts of hatred for all of us.”

Spencer said he has received multiple calls from friends and colleagues detailing stories of bullying and threatening acts in recent weeks.

“We are better than this. We can disagree with dignity and without being threatened or going as far as to commit a crime,” Spencer said.

The legislator outlined the many resources available to the public to battle hate crimes and encourage the observation of human rights, including education programs for students, and officers who are specifically trained to recognize hate crimes and counsel victims.

Rabbi Yaakov Saacks from the Chai Center in Dix Hills detailed programs offered to educators to help them teach about the Holocaust.

Saacks urged teachers to give extra attention to Holocaust studies and racism studies. The rabbi said he is involved with the Memorial Library, an organization that supports Holocaust education with satellite seminars, mini grants and more to help schools teach students about the Holocaust. He also offered to travel to schools himself to teach students.

“I believe a Holocaust symbol, while it’s true it’s hurtful to the Jews, the swastika … is hurtful to us all,” Saacks said. “Sixty million people died because of Hitler’s nonsense in World War II. Ten percent of those were of the Jewish faith. Fifty-four million non-Jewish people died. Over three percent of the world’s population were killed in WWII — 292,130 U.S. soldiers were killed in battle. The Iraq War was 5,000. The Civil War was 87,000. It’s not only a Jewish problem. The swastika hurt us all and hurts us all greatly.”

“We are better than this. We can disagree with dignity and without being threatened or going as far as to commit a crime.”
— William Spencer

Kenneth Bossert, superintendent of Elwood school district as well as the vice president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, agreed educators need more help teaching students about these sensitive issues.

“Schools are a reflection of what’s happening in society,” Bossert said. “What children bring with them to the classroom is not only what they learn from their teachers, but what they’re learning in their homes.”

Bossert said he has been an educator for more than 20 years, and this is the first presidential election he remembers that required teachers to talk about issues of race and division.

“Typically, after a presidential election, the results come in and teachers instruct about lessons on the Electoral College and the popular vote and how states break it down,” he said. “The lessons were very different this year. The lessons were about community and respecting others and making everyone feel comfortable and welcome in the hallways and the classrooms.”

Bossert said he wanted to correct one word used throughout the rally: tolerance.

“That’s not a word I use,” he said. “The word I use is acceptance. Tolerance implies that we’re going to tolerate someone who is somehow less than we are. Acceptance implies respect, community and love for one another.”

Roberto Pantoja mugshot from SCPD

A Huntington Station man was charged with a hate crime after allegedly stealing from the same convent twice.

On both March 7 and March 26, the Suffolk County Police Department has alleged, the suspect entered theSaint Hugh of Lincoln Convent on East 9th Street and stole both property and cash that belonged to the nuns living there.

Hate Crimes Unit detectives arrested Roberto Pantoja, 31, on Tuesday, charging him with two counts of second-degree burglary as a hate crime.

Attorney information for Pantoja was not immediately available on the state court system’s online database. He was scheduled to be arraigned on Wednesday.

Anyone with information about the incidents is asked to contact detectives at 631-852-6323.

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Joselo Lucero speaks during a Bethel AME Church program about building bridges during Black History Month. Photo from Tom Lyon

By Tom Lyon

Members of Setauket’s Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church hosted a community forum last Saturday to conclude Black History Month with a time of reflection about violence and its aftermath.

The event was a follow-up to last June’s memorial gathering held just three days after the tragic shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Nine people, some related to Bethel church members, died in the church’s sanctuary, yet their families spoke out for healing and forgiveness. Actions resulting from the tragedy included the removal of the Confederate battle flag from many public places across the South.

The 80 audience members reflected personally about the main themes of how we can change in response to tragic events and of building bridges throughout our communities to prevent future violence.

A featured speaker was Joselo Lucero, whose brother Marcelo, an Ecuadorean immigrant, was murdered in a Patchogue hate crime six years ago. Joselo Lucero has since become a champion against hate crimes and for tolerance, and has presented programs to thousands of Long Island students. At Bethel AME, he spoke of his family’s loss and how the village of Patchogue now holds an annual vigil in remembrance of the tragedy.

Jennifer Bradshaw, an assistant superintendent in the Smithtown school district, said, “It was so empowering to be surrounded by people dedicated to not just identify societal problems, but to work actively to solve them … to sit down and talk honestly, yet hopefully about building bridges across differences.”

Susan Feretti, of Setauket, said, “The conversation began here today is the beginning of neighbors and groups building bridges … the root of healing both locally and globally. I look forward to what lies ahead.”

Rev. Greg Leonard added that, “Based upon the very positive responses from the audience, and a questionnaire distributed, a task force is being formed to explore ways to hold more ‘building bridges’ events in the future. All community members are invited to join.”

Tom Lyon is a program director at Lift Up Long Island, a group that teaches leadership skills to youth.

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Christopher Collins mugshot from SCPD

Police have arrested a teenager for a hate crime after he allegedly painted swastikas and other graffiti all over his North Shore neighborhood.

After responding on the morning of Jan. 15 to a 911 call of graffiti on two vehicles on Clio Road in Rocky Point, one of which was a Bobcat, patrol officers found even more graffiti in the surrounding area, including swastikas, according to the Suffolk County Police Department.

Swastikas were spray painted on a house and a retaining wall on Garden Road, police said, and there was graffiti on a house on Locust Drive, as well as on streets signs on both Locust and Clio Road.

All of those properties are on roads in Rocky Point that are adjacent to one another.

Detectives from the Hate Crimes Unit began investigating the case and after canvassing the area, arrested 18-year-old Christopher Collins, of nearby Freya Road, that same afternoon.

Police said Collins has been charged with two counts of first-degree aggravated harassment and five counts of making graffiti.

Attorney information for the defendant was not available.

Board adopts swifter timelines for removal

Huntington Town Councilwoman Susan Berland's (D) proposal to speed up graffiti removal got the green-light this week. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Rules for dealing with graffiti in Huntington Town just got stricter.

The town board on Tuesday unanimously approved amendments to Town Code backed by Councilwoman Susan Berland (D). The changes create a faster process of all graffiti removal from both residential and commercial properties, and an even speedier timeline for removal of bias or hate graffiti.

Berland’s amendments were subject to a public hearing in early June.

“I’m very glad it passed, especially unanimously,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s important we have graffiti laws that will try to control this issue and also stop graffiti before it gets done.”

Residents of Huntington Town will now have 10 days after they receive a summons to remove graffiti from their property. If the 10 days expire and the graffiti has not been removed, the town can send Huntington Town General Services Department employees in to remove the graffiti. The resident will be charged for the cleanup fee, as well as a $250 administrative fee.

If the owner fails to play the cleanup bill within 30 days, the property will be added to a graffiti blight inventory, which would cost homeowners $2,500, and commercial property owners $5,000. Owners who do not pay the fee will have the bill become a lien on their property.

Berland is most excited about the section regarding graffiti containing hate speech.

“I think people agree that hate language should not be tolerated in any circumstance, so that’s a really important aspect for me,” Berland said.

The time frame is much shorter for graffiti with hate crime, with a total of three days to remove it once a property owner gets notice of violation, before the town takes action.

According to Berland, the amendment could become effective in about 45 days.

“Overall this will encourage owners of properties to make sure their properties are maintained properly,” Berland said.

Burglar caught
A 33-year-old woman from Hauppauge was arrested in Smithtown on May 5 and charged with third-degree burglary. Police said that on April 23 at 10 a.m. she entered a vacant home on Davis Street in Hauppauge by smashing a window and damaged the interior of the structure. She was arrested at 9:35 a.m. at the 4th Precinct.

Facepalm
Police said a 29-year-old man was arrested at his home on Apple Lane in Commack on May 9 at about 6:30 p.m. and charged with petit larceny. Police said the man took six containers of Olay face cream, put them in a bag and exited the store without paying.

Cat food thief caught
A 55-year-old woman from Commack was arrested in the same town on May 7 at about 3:20 p.m. and charged with petit larceny. Police said the woman took cat food, a pillow, paper goods and soup from Walmart on Crooked Hill Road without paying. She was arrested at the location.

Cash nabber caught
Police said a 43-year-old man from Yaphank was arrested in Smithtown on May 7 and charged with two counts of grand larceny, one in the third and the other in the fourth degree. Police said the man on two separate occasions earlier this year took cash from a cash register drop box from a store on West Jericho Turnpike in Smithtown and removed it without permission.

An elaborate steal    
An unknown person entered a vacant building, broke down a sheetrock wall and entered neighboring Markar Jewelers on E. Main Street in Smithtown and stole assorted jewelry in a display case on May 8 at about 3:18 a.m.

In your face
Police said two men were involved in an altercation at Accompsett Middle School on Meadow Road in Smithtown on May 5 at about 4:25 p.m. Someone threw dirt into the complainant’s face.

Tires, rims stolen
Eight sets of tires and rims were taken from Smithhaven Dodge on Middle Country Road in Nesconset and a passenger side door window was also damaged sometime between 9 p.m. on May 7 and 7:45 a.m. on May 8.

Jeep stolen
Someone took a customer’s 2012 Jeep from the parking lot of Smithaven Chrysler on Middle County Road in Nesconset sometime between 7:45  and 11:45 a.m. on May 8.

Indian Head harassment
Police received a report of harassment from Key Food on Indian Head Road in Kings Park on May 7 at about 6:15 p.m. A male complainant said a man grabbed him by the shirt and left a red mark.

Figurines lifted
Someone stole figurines from the St. James General Store on Moriches Road around noon on May 8.

Window damaged, rims lifted
Police said someone smashed the window of Smithtown Nissan on Middle Country Road in St. James and stole rims and tires and damaged a window of a 2015 Nissan 370z sometime between 10 p.m. on May 5 and 6:45 a.m. on May 6.

Damaged window
An unknown person smashed the back window of a 2001 Volkwagon Suburban on Middle Country Road in St. James sometime between 9:30 a.m. on May 5 and 8 a.m. on May 6.

Speedy arrest
Police arrested an 18-year-old man from Stony Brook and charged him with first-degree operating a motor vehicle impaired by drugs and unlawful possession of marijuana. Police said the man was driving a 2011 Subaru southbound on North Country Road and Beacon Hill Drive in Stony Brook and was pulled over for exceeding the speed limit. He was arrested on May 7 at 2:45 a.m.

Can’t get enough
Two men — one a 21-year-old from Centereach, another a 22-year-old from Coram — were arrested on May 10 at about 6:42 a.m. in Setauket-East Setauket and charged with trespass. Police said the two men were attempting to open doors of parked vehicles at a location on Pond Path in Setauket. Both were ordered to leave and later returned to the property. The Centereach man was also charged with criminal mischief — police said he punched a 2008 Chevrolet Silverado at that location.

Shopping flee
A Shirley woman was arrested on May 10 at the Walmart on Route 347 in Setauket-East Setauket and charged with petit larceny. Police said she took assorted clothing and household items, put them in a shopping cart and bags, and walked past the register without paying. She was arrested at the location at about 6 p.m. that day.

Pocketbook pocketed
Someone entered an unlocked front door of a residence on Galleon Lane in Setauket-East Setauket and took a pocketbook containing credit cards, cash and a cell phone sometime between 3:30  and 7 p.m. on May 8.

Money mystery
A Robinhood Lane resident from Setauket-East Setauket reported an incident of first-degree identity theft on May 7. Police said someone took cash from the individual’s Bank of America online account and transferred it to different accounts. The transaction occurred at 5:30 p.m. on May 6, police said.

Those darn kids
A Brandywine Drive resident in Setauket-East Setauket reported an incident of second-degree harassment on May 5 at 7 p.m. Police said an adult neighbor verbally harassed an 11-year-old.

A lot at stake
Two Willis Avenue neighbors in Port Jefferson Station got into a verbal argument on May 6 after one removed stakes in the ground that marked a proposed fence line.

Do not enter
A 21-year-old Port Jefferson man was arrested in Port Jefferson Station on May 9 after he entered a building and remained in it unlawfully. He was charged with third-degree criminal trespassing and unlawful possession of marijuana.

Hateful
A resident of Richmond Hill Road in Sound Beach reported on May 8 that an unknown person had spray-painted a swastika in the street by their home.

Bang bang
An unknown person shot somebody with a BB gun on May 5 in Rocky Point at around 2:45 p.m. According to police, the perpetrator was traveling north on Shell Drive when they fired the gun. The person who was shot was OK.

We are the Champlins
Several people were involved in a fight at a home on Champlin Street in Centereach on May 10. Police said a man went to the hospital after sustaining a head laceration that required medical attention.

Out of gas
A 35-year-old homeless man was charged with third-degree robbery after he stole money from a Middle Country Road gas station on May 8.

Shattered glass
An unknown person smashed a window with a rock at a Shamrock Lane home in Centereach on May 8 at around 8 p.m.

Failing to stop
A 39-year-old Port Jefferson man is facing numerous charges, including leaving the scene of an accident, after he crashed his 2004 Hyundai into a 2015 Jeep on May 8, causing damage. Police said the man fled the scene, which occurred by Skips Road and Route 112 in Coram.

Lost numbers
An unknown person stole a cell phone from a 2009 Chevy Malibu on Wood Road in Centereach on May 8. The incident occurred around 2:30 p.m.

Zoom
A 1994 Ford was stolen from a Centereach mechanic on May 6. According to police, the vehicle had been repaired, but when the owner went to pick it up, it wasn’t there.

Play ball
An unknown female stole both a baseball cap and a decal from Bob’s Stores in Selden on May 8, shortly before 6 p.m.

File photo

Police say two people charged with a hate crime on Monday afternoon targeted elderly people, pretending to collect donations for a church before committing burglary.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, officers from the 2nd Precinct responded to a 911 call about the suspects posing as church representatives to gain access to an elderly woman’s apartment in Paumanack Village in Greenlawn, then stealing property from her.

Police officers Frank Muoio and Todd Regan found suspects Heather Marchese, 23, and Sean DiStefano, a 24-year-old Shoreham resident, within the apartment complex and arrested them. Both were charged with second-degree burglary as a hate crime. Marchese, who is homeless, was also charged with seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and possession of a hypodermic instrument.

Marchese and DiStefano, who both had other unrelated charges already pending against them, including criminal possession and traffic law violations, were listed on the New York State court system’s online database as representing themselves and could not be reached for comment.

Police said an investigation — by 2nd Squad detectives and the Hate Crimes Unit — has indicated that there may be other victims, and that the suspects targeted the elderly.

Anyone who may have been a target in the scheme is asked to call the Hate Crimes Unit at 631-852-6323.