Announcement Made During Governor Cuomo’s Address at Abyssinian Baptist Church
New State Police Unit Will Focus on Investigating Reported Hate Crimes
Legislation Will Extend Human Rights Law Protections to All Public School Students Statewide
New Public/Private Legal Defense Fund Will Ensure All Immigrants Have Access to Representation
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced several actions to protect civil rights and combat hate crimes in New York, including the creation of a State Police unit to investigate reports of hate crimes, an expansion of the state’s human rights law to protect all students, and the establishment of a new emergency legal defense fund for immigrants. Governor Cuomo laid out this three-part action plan while speaking to the congregation at Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City about the post-election climate and the recent uptick in reports of discrimination, bias-motivated threats, harassment and violence throughout the state.
“New York is, and will always be, a place of acceptance, inclusion and a bastion of hope for all people,” Governor Cuomo said. “We will never allow fear and intolerance to tear at the fabric of who we are – New Yorkers are stronger than that, and we are better than that. With these decisive actions, we say to people of all backgrounds and beliefs: New York is your home and refuge, and we will do whatever it takes to keep you safe.”
State Police Hate Crime Unit
Governor Cuomo has directed the State Police to create a new Hate Crimes Unit to investigate and offer assistance to other law enforcement agencies investigating potential hate crimes. The Unit will consist of investigators from across the state who have been trained as bias crime specialists and it will coordinate with local District Attorneys to provide necessary support during the prosecution of hate crime cases. Some of these investigators have already been involved in the investigation of recent potential hate crimes including swastikas found in different parts of the state.
Expanding New York’s Human Rights Law to Protect All Students
The second piece of this effort is to advance legislation that expands the protections of New York State’s Human Rights law to all students statewide. Under current law, only private school students are protected by the Human Rights law, meaning that if a public school student is discriminated against in school, that student has no claim.
Following a 2012 decision by the New York State Court of Appeals that found public schools did not fit the definition of an “education corporation or association”, the State Division of Human Rights lost its ability to investigate reports of bullying, harassment, or other discrimination being made by public school students. This decision was made despite the fact that the Division had asserted jurisdiction over public schools for nearly three decades and was forced to dismiss over 70 open complaints filed against public schools at the time.
First-In-The-Nation Immigrant Legal Defense Fund
The final element of Governor Cuomo’s action plan is to establish the nation’s first emergency public/private legal defense fund to ensure all immigrants, regardless of status, have access to representation. The initiative will be administered by the state’s Office for New Americans and be run in partnership with major colleges and universities, as well as law firms, legal associations and advocacy organizations.
New Yorkers who have experienced bias or discrimination are encouraged to call DHR’s toll-free hotline at (888) 392-3644 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday – Friday. If you want to report a crime or fear for your safety, call 911 immediately.
If you have been the victim of a crime, you may contact the New York State Office of Victim Services, which funds 223 programs statewide, providing direct services, such as crisis intervention and counseling, to victims of crime, including hate crimes. Those programs also can help any crime victim apply for compensation and other assistance from the agency, which is a safety net for individuals who have no other resources. Individuals seeking help from OVS also can search for a service provider online: https://ovs.ny.gov/locate-program. For more information, please visit: www.ovs.ny.gov.
Under state law, a person commits a hate crime when one of a specified set of offenses is committed targeting a victim because of a perception or belief about their race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation, or when such an act is committed as a result of that type of perception or belief. Hate crimes can be perpetrated against an individual, a group of individuals or against public or private property. Also under state law it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, religion, ethnicity and many other protected classifications.
New York has the proud distinction of being the first state in the nation to enact a Human Rights Law, affording every citizen “an equal opportunity to enjoy a full and productive life.” The New York State Division of Human Rights is the agency in charge of enforcing this law, which prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, and other jurisdictions, based on age, race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, military status, and other specified classes. For more information about the Human Rights Law and the work of the agency, please visit the Division of Human Rights’ website at www.dhr.ny.gov.