Educating Bigots


 Speaking to Jewish community leaders in Borough Park last month, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly offered some learned wisdom about the nature of those who carry out hate crimes. The majority, he said, are “thrill-seekers rather than ideologues.” 

In other words, they may have nothing in particular against the people they target, but simply get their kicks by painting swastikas on synagogues, sending nooses to black teachers or menacing people they perceive to be gay or otherwise different.

It’s a safe bet that such people will find Rikers Island somewhat less of a thrill, and the threat of being sent there for prolonged stints under the state’s enhanced penalties for bias or hate crimes may be enough to spoil their fun. The city could be doing more to let people know the serious consequences of committing a bias crime.

The recent beating on a Brooklyn subway train of four Jews by suspects who already had a history of bias attacks, as well as other recent race-related violent crimes, suggests a new tack is needed. Maybe it’s time the city launched an education campaign warning criminals about the risks of participating in or being an accomplice to hate crimes. It should start at the top.

On Monday Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was traveling in Asia last week, called the Q train attack “a contemptible act,” and praised the Muslim Good Samaritan who defended the victims. (See story, page 1.)

The incident, he said, was a reminder “that ugly prejudice and racism still exist, but thanks to the swift work of the NYPD, all 10 perpetrators have been charged with hate crimes.” (In fact, the Brooklyn DA is seeking hate crimes charges by convening a grand jury.)

That was a welcome statement, but the mayor can do more to spread the word about the seriousness and consequences of hate crimes.

In addition to denouncing the attack, he could also remind the public about the extent of police resources poised to crack down on hate crimes perpetrators and the consequences that await them. He has done so in the past and should to do it again now, and every time a violent hate incident occurs.

Even with an increase over last year, hate crimes in New York remain quite rare, given New York’s vast population and the extent of daily interaction between disparate citizens. But, as City Council Speaker Christine Quinn noted in establishing a daylong program against hate last month, the misdeeds of the few call for more diligence and action by the many. Forceful and timely statements by the city’s most vocal and visible public figures are a step in that direction.