D.A. Bragg Delivers Remarks Introducing New “Hate Crimes Modernization Act”

November 5, 2023

Assault can be charged as a hate crime, but gang assault cannot. So, if one person beats up another person because of the victim’s race, that assault can be charged as a hate crime. But, inexplicably, if a group of people beats someone up because of their race, that gang assault (as the law calls it) cannot be charged as a hate crime. That needs to change.

Rape in the first degree, can be charged as a hate crime, but other sexual assaults like forcible touching cannot. That too needs to change.

Anti-Asian slurs on a Chinese restaurant or homophobic slurs on a gay bar can’t be charged as a hate crime. That too must change.

And that is why we’re all here today.

Thank you for covering this anouncement about very very important legislation.

It is my honor to be joined by the sponsors and architects of the Hate Crimes Modernization Act: Assembly Member Grace Lee and State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal.

We’re also joined by our colleagues in city government including: Borough President Mark Levine and Council Member Keith Powers; our partners in law enforcement from the NYPD [additional introductions].

And perhaps most importantly, all of our civic groups that are represented, the beautiful fabric of our island. And even though I’m Manhattan District Attorney I’ll speak for the entire city: this is the strength of our city. So to stand alongside our civic groups and others who have led for so long, in so many ways is truly an honor.

It makes sense that we have a diverse group standing together. As I’ve often said, hate crime does not discriminate. It has targeted all of our communities. And so in some ways, while we’re drawn together because of many good things, we’re also drawn together because of hate crimes.

More than two decades ago, New York State law recognized that bias-motivated crimes inflict harm far beyond the immediate victim. It’s right there in the preamble, right there in the legislative history. These crimes traumatize and inflict fear far beyond the individual, they go to the entire targeted group. They tear, as the legislative history says, at the very fabric of our communities, undermining the mutual trust and respect that is vital to a diverse, democratic society. Therefore the hate crimes law seeks to deter these acts by increasing criminal penalties, commensurate with the increased harm that come with hate crimes.

When I ran for District Attorney, hate crimes was at the forefront of my agenda. We talked about it, we were in the midst of an increase then. In my first testimony before the City Council I went and I asked for additional budget, and we got $1.7 million dollars from our city partners and we expanded our Hate Crimes Unit using that funding. We increased the number of specially trained, cross-staffed Assistant District Attorneys from two to seventeen. We hired specially trained investigators to help us build cases working hand-in-hand with the NYPD. And we added counselors and advocates to support survivors of hate crimes, and importantly community outreach staff . We had some members of some communities saying, how can we trust you? You literally do not speak our langauge. We’ve changed that. We’ve filled these roles, we’ve deepened out our language capability and importantly our cultural competency as well to serve Manhattan’s many communities.

Sadly, hate crimes reported to the NYPD have more than doubled from 2015 to 2022. Last month alone, reported hate crimes more than doubled compared to last October, and my office – sadly and tragically – has nearly 140 open hate crime cases as we speak.

And that really brings us to this moment and why we need these commonsense fixes to our laws.

The hate crimes law enumerates specific offenses that can be charged as hate crimes. If we prove that the person committing the offense was motivated by a belief or perception about the victim’s perceived or actual membership in a protected class (such as race, religion, national origin, gender identity, disability, or sexual orientation), the crime and potential sentence are bumped up one level. So for example, an A misdemeanor is bumped up to an E felony, and E felony to a D and so on.

The current list of eligible offenses, as I outlined just a few offenses at the top, contains glaring omissions and it does not comport with our practice, what we are seeing day in and day out in our cases with the NYPD and our interaction with survivors. Over the course of nearly a year, we’ve consulted with the NYPD, with our legislative partners and with many of the civic groups here with us today to work on commonsense fixes to address what are clear, glaring omissions in the statue.  

So today we are here to talk about a bill that will plug those holes, will add 31 new eligible offenses to the hate crimes statute. And again that’s borne out of our collective experience, what we’re seeing on our docket, what the NYPD is seeing, what our legislators are seeing, and most importantly what our community members are seeing.

I’ll remind folks this is still an underreported crime. We are still reaching out to communities to make sure they trust to come forward to us. And you can imagine the conversations when things inexplicably can’t be charged as hate crimes; we have to have those conversations with survivors and victims.

While these changes have long been in the works, they are unfortunately newly urgent. The current surge in hate crimes reported to the NYPD follows a pattern, a pattern that we have sadly seen many times. Bias-motivated crimes often spike following high profile events—from anti-immigrant hate crimes in 2016, following xenophobic rhetoric during the presidential campaign, to anti-Black hate crimes following the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, to anti-AAPI hate crimes during the Covid pandemic, to more recently, antisemitic, anti-Arab and Islamophobic incidents.

As to the current events, I want to make it crystal clear: harassment or violence against Jews here in Manhattan or against Muslims or Arab-Americans here in Manhattan, is plainly not acceptable. And more to the point of why we’re here today, it is a crime. Full stop.

As New Yorkers we can and should exercise our First Amendment rights to voice our opinions and petition the government about foreign policy and any other matters. We can disagree vigorously about policy. What we cannot do – and what we will not accept – is engaging in violence, harassment or property destruction against our fellow New Yorkers based on religion or ethnicity or any of the other protected categories specified in the statute. My office will and does investigate and prosecute hate crimes vigorously, and with the help of the state legislature, we hope to ensure that the scope of what we do, the scope of our hate crimes law is sufficient to protect all of New York’s diverse communities.