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‘Prejudice is Not a Prank’

Multi-faith, Multi-community gathering addresses hate crimes and ‘shock value’ vandalism

From fire bombings to menorah desecrations to racist and anti-Semitic graffiti, an unsettling wave of intolerance has been spreading throughout the greater area. Local community and clergy leaders felt it was time to address the situation this week, meeting on Martin Luther King Day at Saint Boniface Church in Sea Cliff.

Mayor Bruce Kennedy of Sea Cliff called the forum together, after a rash of swastikas and other graffiti started turning up throughout his village recently. He was joined by State Senator Carl Marcellino, Assemblyman Charles Lavine, Nassau County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, Glen Cove Mayor Ralph Suozzi, Glen Cove City Councilman Anthony Jimenez, as well as rabbis, priests and ministers from throughout the area.

While Kennedy believes that “ignorant and confused youth” rather than “neo-Nazis,” are actually the problem in his area, he made it clear that “prejudice is not a prank.”

The graffiti in his village included a variety of images “meant to shock and upset,” the mayor explained – from the sexual to the racist. But, the overall message from the group that gathered was - words and images have a lot of weight. Swastikas and racist jargon are not to be taken lightly.         

Kennedy said that Nassau County Detective Gary Shapiro, bias crime coordinator, has been called in to investigate.  

Assemblyman Charles Lavine said that acts like this, whether a prank or not, spread more acts. He mentioned the menorah desecration in Plainview, a mosque attack in Queens and the fire bombing of a rabbi’s home in New Jersey, suggesting that there is no distinction in acts based on motivation.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman of Tifereth Israel said that this type of vandalism creates a chain. He said the best thing is to teach children that “There is no room and there is no tolerance for this kind of imagery. [The use of a swastika] is not funny, it is not rebellious… It is wrong.” He added that children must learn that “Swastikas can never be used, even in jest. They evoke such painful memories.”

Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, Nassau County Legislator, spoke at the forum. She said that “a reporter asked me today if it is a good idea to give attention to crimes like these… I said, yes, I believe it is important for anyone who thinks they can do this to the community to know that we are going to keep an eye out and we are going to stand together against this.”

DeRiggi-Whitton praised Kennedy for holding the forum and commended the clergy and residents who gathered.

President of the local board of education, Carolyn Genovesi of North Shore Schools, reminded the audience that children live in an era when “everything is in their face” on the Internet and TV. Un-politically correct messages, she said, bombard them and “it is confusing to them.”

Genovesi added, “These are the sad acts of a few children and we must ask as a community what we can do to help them.”

Mayor Kennedy concluded the forum thanking Saint Boniface church and Father Bob Romeo for hosting the group. He ended saying, “You can’t ignore this and have it go away. It is not going away unless we take some action and continue to get together.”