Friday, December 07, 2018

Antisemitic Hate Crimes are Like Any Other Hate Crimes

I want to flag three different stories about antisemitic hate crimes, all in service in the same fundamental message: Hate crimes which target Jews are not distinct from other hate crimes. They'd do it to Jews, they'd do it to other people too.

Case #1 is a sentencing decision in New York, where a judge gave no jail time to a man who
allegedly entered a Jewish nursing home in the Bronx and proceeded to "terroriz[e] residents," punctuating his rampage by "repeatedly bashing an 84-year-old man on the head with a fire extinguisher while shouting, 'I’m going to kill you, you mother f—ng Jew!'"
The judge concluded that the offender had a drug and alcohol problem, and recommended in-patient treatment in lieu of incarceration.

As someone who generally thinks we overincarcerate, I'm always leery about coming down too hard on judges for handing down sentences viewed as too lenient (this was always my worry in regarding the successful recall effort of Judge Aaron Persky, who gave only a six month sentence to a Stanford student convicted a rape). Of course, one can think we overincarcerate and also believe that a zero day prison term seems a bit light. But the bigger point is just to emphasize that Jews are not different from other groups in that, even in cases of brutal assaults, it is not the case that the rage of the criminal justice system reflexively rouses itself on our behalf.

Case #2 concerns a recent spate of alleged attacks on Bukharin Jews in Queens, which the NYPD has thus far refused to classify as hate crimes. I mention this in the context of the oft-reported statistic that Jews are among the most common victims of hate crimes in America (including, by far, being the most targeted religious group), and the occasional retort one hears to this fact that most of the reported cases are "only" vandalism or property crimes.

As these cases demonstrate, though, there is considerable concern in the Jewish community that many of the more severe attacks against us don't get recorded as hate crimes (even if they are acknowledged as crimes). To take a striking example: the 2014 FBI hate crimes dataset records no instances of homicides stemming from antisemitic motivations. Why is that striking? Because 2014 was the year where a White Supremacist killed three people at a Kansas City-area JCC. While it was reported at the time that the suspect would face hate crimes charges, the offense apparently never made it into the FBI database.

Again, the point here is that it isn't the case -- as some imply -- that the high levels of reported antisemitic violence is an artifact of the police being ready to jump on each and every incident which has even a whiff of antisemitic motivation. For Jews, like for anyone else, it can be a hard, uphill slog to even have severe violence against us acknowledged to be, and reported as, an incidence of hate.

Case #3 is actually two cases -- one of the Queens incidents mentioned above, and a Menorah vandalized in broad daylight in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In both cases, non-Jewish bystanders immediately came to the aid of the victimized Jewish community -- chasing away the attackers in Queens, helping put the Menorah back upright in Cambridge.

Here, we see a different sort of similarity between Jewish and non-Jewish hate crimes targets: For each, there are good people of all backgrounds, races, religions and creeds, who will stand up and do the right thing. Antisemitism is real, racism is real, Islamophobia is real, misogyny is real, homophobia is real -- all these things are real. But there are allies, and there are helpers. We're not alone. Thankfully, having friends who have our backs is another thing that Jews and non-Jews still have in common.

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