A vinyl swimming pool slashed at Camp Shalom in Chestnut Ridge. Swastikas and racist graffiti scrawled on vehicles outside a secluded home in Pearl River. Anti-Semitic phrases and profanity spray-painted across the greenhouses at Van Houten Farms in Pearl River. While the Summer of 2014 will go down as one of the mildest in decades, this season will also be remembered for an unfortunate spate of hate-fueled incidents in Rockland County.
While these bias crimes are heinous, even more disturbing is that each incident transpired right here in our own neighborhoods. Rockland is not immune from the recent escalation of anti-Semitic activities throughout our state, the nation and the world. Many people, however, mistakenly believe anti-Semitism is a problem for someplace else. Sadly, this is not the case.
Anti-Semitism is a hostility toward or discrimination against Jews. Racism is prejudice, hatred or intolerance directed against someone of a different ancestry, typically involving the idea that one’s own race is superior. No community will flourish if these beliefs are allowed to take hold. No matter how great the infrastructure, bigotry divides cities and towns, large and small. Only by ensuring equality for all people can communities best protect everyone and embrace the talents and skills living within them.
With more than 20% of our population foreign-born, Rockland County is one of the most diverse communities in the region. Just two weeks ago, County Clerk Paul Piperato led a summertime Naturalization ceremony at Provident Bank Park in Pomona. Under a blazing midday sun, Paul administered the Oath of Allegiance to 158 smiling newcomers from 47 nations, from Afghanistan to Yugoslavia. But, you need not attend a special ceremony to realize we’re living in a place rich with varied customs and traditions. A simple trip to the Palisades Center, the Suffern Library or Haverstraw Bay Park will show off a beautiful, interdependent, multifaceted county. Unfortunately, not everyone equates diversity with beauty.
As detectives in Ramapo and Orangetown continue to follow investigative leads in each recent bias incident, the county’s Commission on Human Rights is actively charting our next steps. First established in 1963, (a year before the landmark Civil Rights Act was passed by Congress), the Commission ensures the rights, along with equal opportunity and protection, for all local residents. Ably led by Commissioner Ram Nagubandi, the panel stands ready to investigate discriminatory practices related to housing, employment, race, creed, age, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, gender/sex, and/or disability.
While some on our Legislature have called for the launch of a bipartisan commission to examine this summer’s alleged hate crimes, I believe the dedicated volunteers already serving on the Human Rights Commission are well-equipped to study the events and develop innovative ways to stop the hate. Let’s use the deep knowledge of those on the Commission, not supplant it. I look forward to creative, achievable solutions.
When people attack a minority group, the entire County suffers. I will not allow this to continue. During my first seven months as your County Executive, I have taken great strides toward uniting our communities. I’ve engaged our residents and local faith leaders, even meeting personally with several hate crimes victims. Join me in condemning these recent cowardly acts. Let’s look beyond color and religious boundaries and start to understand diversity and inclusion as an American standard that enlivens our schools, our economy and our communities. It is without question that diversity is a basic fiber of our multi-faceted American tapestry.
As we work every day toward a better Rockland County, please work to ensure that bigotry of any kind is not given a voice. Perhaps the most necessary key to overcoming hatred is the appreciation of differences. The messages of acceptance and tolerance must enter every home, school and office if we are to change the hearts and minds of those who harbor such views. Let’s educate the young people of Rockland County from following this dark path.