Last week, Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation which will prohibit any municipal corporation such as fire districts, volunteer fire departments, police departments and school districts from selling or displaying symbols of hate.
This legislation was proposed by State Senator Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills) in February, following a pair of incidents that took place last year—one where a Confederate flag was displayed on a firetruck during a parade in Suffolk County and the second when a Confederate flag was displayed in the window of the Levittown Fire Department Station 3.
“The recent and disgusting rise in racist, homophobic and hateful behavior will never be tolerated in New York,” Governor Hochul stated in a press release. “Symbols of hate have no use other than to spread ignorance and incite violence. As New Yorkers, we must remain united and actively fight to eradicate these attitudes, and this legislation bolsters those efforts. There is no reason for a symbol of hate to ever be on display, let alone by a police or fire department charged with protecting their community.”
This new law is an extension of similar legislation which was signed last year that banned displaying symbols of hate or any similar image on state property. The symbols as outlined in the law are defined as being those of white supremacy, neo-Nazi ideology or the Confederate battle flag.
Kaplan stressed the importance of taking action against hate symbols in light of recent events. “You would think it was common sense that taxpayer-owned property couldn’t be used as a platform for hate, but shockingly there was no law on the books saying so—until now,” Kaplan said.
In June, the Senator herself was targeted with anti-Semitic and misogynistic hate mail in response to her promotion of COVID-19 vaccinations. A mailer was sent back to Kaplan’s office with a handwritten note that cited a coded anti-Semitic threat—“109 soon 110.” According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the phrase refers to the false claim that Jews have been expelled in the past from 109 countries and that the US or another country will shortly become the 110th.
“With hate on the rise around the world and in our own community, it’s more urgent than ever that we take action to eradicate it wherever we find it,” Senator Kaplan said.
Port Washington was also the target of hate symbols on two separate occasions in the last two years.
In Oct. 2020, the Port Washington Police Athletic League’s (PAL) clubhouse was vandalized. Swastikas were spray painted all throughout the building covering both sides of the front door, the lawn tractor, several pieces of athletic equipment and the walls of the boy’s bathroom and so on throughout the building. Shortly after the vandalism, a GoFundMe page was set up to help raise money to renovate the building and remove the graffiti.
The Port Washington Police Department was actively investigating the incident, but to date, no information has ever been released regarding any potential suspects or arrests.
Then this past April, two swastikas were spray-painted onto the exterior walls at John Philip Sousa Elementary School. Port Washington School District Superintendent Dr. Michael Hynes notified the community that the images were removed by the time the students reported to school that morning.
Following that incident, Dr. Hynes stated in a letter to the community that the school district would continue to work with the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center (HMTC) of Nassau County to educate the students about the use of hate symbols.
“The district also partners with the Holocaust Museum and Tolerance Center and the HSA to continue educating our students on the lasting damage from symbols of hate,” Dr. Hynes said in statement in April. “The district has a zero tolerance for offensive sentiments and places a strong emphasis on providing students with a platform to understand the values of inclusion through programs and discussions about the impacts of hate language and actions.”
The Port Washington Police District did conduct an investigation regarding the incident. But no further information regarding a suspect has been released to the public.
In 2019, the HMTC was also a victim of anti-Semitic graffiti. Two swastikas were found on the grounds, one spray painted on a tree and another on a rock.
“Public property belongs to all of us, and this measure is critical to ensure that our public property isn’t being used to promote hatred,” Kaplan said. “I’m grateful to Governor Kathy Hochul for signing this measure into law and for her leadership to ensure that hate has no place in our State. I’m also thankful for my partnership with Assemblymember Michaelle Solages on this measure and others to keep our community safe from hatred,” Kaplan stated.
“With this law now signed, we aren’t only doing away with this deplorable behavior, but also ensuring that every New Yorker, no matter their background or identity, feels welcome in their community,” Hochul said.