Leaders Pledge Unity After Anti-Semitic Attacks
By Gregg McQueen
Black and Jewish community leaders and elected officials gathered in solidarity on Monday to express unity in the wake of an anti-Semitic hate crime in a Rockland County.
On Saturday evening, December 28, a machete-wielding man injured five people after entering a rabbi’s home during a Hanukkah celebration in the town of Monsey, located about 25 miles from New York City. It capped a week during which featured several other incidents in the city, which are being investigated as hate crimes.
At a press conference at his National Action Network headquarters in Harlem, Reverend Al Sharpton, who organized the gathering, said it was important for the black community to speak out against anti-Semitism the same as it would against attacks on blacks.
“We cannot remain silent as we see a consistent pattern of attacks against people based on their faith and based on who they are,” remarked Sharpton.
“You can’t fight hate against you unless you’re willing to fight hate against everyone else,” he said. “You cannot be anti-hate and pro-civil rights only one way.”
Noting that black suspects have been charged with several recent anti-Semitic attacks, including the one in Monsey, Sharpton said the black community must denounce the crimes to avoid reviving old tensions between blacks and Jews in New York City.
“We rise to say that we will not be silent, and that we condemn any attacks, any hate crimes, any efforts by anyone to try in any way impede the continuing move to heal whatever we have tried to heal,” said Sharpton, pointing out that black and Jewish leaders have strived to reduce animosity between the communities.
Grafton Thomas, a 37-year-old black man, was arrested in Harlem about an hour after the attack. He drove from Monsey over the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan, where he was apprehended by the police.
“This will not set us back,” Sharpton said of the incident.
Thomas is a resident of Greenwood Lake, where he lives with his mother, police said. He has pled not guilty to five counts of attempted murder.
On Monday, federal authorities filed hate crime charges against Thomas after authorities reportedly discovered anti-Semitic entries in a journal found in his home.
After his arrest, the Thomas family issued a statement explaining that he has a history of mental illness.
“Grafton Thomas has a long history of mental illness and hospitalizations,” the statement said. “He has no history of like violent acts and no convictions for any crime. He has no known history of anti-Semitism and was raised in a home which embraced and respected all religions and races. He is not a member of any hate group.”
“Let’s be clear: This was an act of domestic terrorism, and we must and will take strong action to keep this vile cancer of hate from spreading,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo in a statement.
Hazel N. Dukes, President of the New York State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said that the Jewish community had served as “a backbone” for the NAACP, supporting the black community in civil rights issues and working with Dr. Martin Luther King.
“We will not allow anyone to tear us apart,” Duke said.
“In the 1950’s and 1960’s, no segment of American society provided as much consistent support to African Americans and to Dr. King as did the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.
Schneier said that Sharpton had organized a group of clergy and civil rights leaders to discuss ways to stem the rise in anti-Semitism.
“Casual Jews become Jewish casualties,” said Schneier. “We cannot fight our battles alone.”
State Assemblymember Michael Blake, who attended the press conference, issued a statement calling for federal and local actions to curtail hate crimes.
“Congress must pass legislation to declare domestic terrorism a crime to ensure that all tools are made available to combat these threats,” Blake said. “The wave of anti-Semitic attacks and violence against places of faith is an increasingly dangerous threat to every single one of us and must be addressed by the U.S Department of Justice. Therefore, DOJ should conduct an emergency review of all definitions of hate crimes and a comprehensive investigation into the patterns of these senseless actions. There certainly must be New York State legislation to further expand hate crime definitions and how to hold persons even more accountable.”
New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman challenged New Yorkers to “do more than just come together” and express solidarity.
“It is time for all of us to take responsibility, to call out anti-Semitism when we see it, to call out racism, to call out homophobia,” she said. “When hate wins, we all lose.”
She said that more should be done to provide mental health treatment, as well as teaching tolerance in New York schools.
“When adults set a good — or bad — example, we all know, children will listen,” she said.
There have been 214 anti-Semitic hate crimes so far in 2019, according to NYPD statistics.
Congressman Adriano Espaillat called the attacks “an epidemic” and recalled a hate crime in his district in 2018, where a white supremacist group marched through Fort Tryon Park and unfurled a massive banner condemning immigrants.
“We must not turn our heads,” he stated. “When they go after one of us, they go after all of us. And that’s why we’re here today.”
Lieberman suggested that that reducing segregation in schools and neighborhoods could help increase tolerance.
“We live in a melting pot society, but we live isolated lives — racially, ethnically, we deal with our own people,” she said. “It’s time to build some bridges, and that’s hard work.”
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