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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Launches New Crime Prevention Efforts to Combat Hate and Anti-Semitism

December 29, 2019

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you, Rabbi. Rabbi Potasnik has been one of the people for years in this city who calls us all together in times of challenge. And I want to note, and this is why we will prevail – Rabbi Potasnik does not just reach out and join with people when there's an attack on the Jewish community, he has done it when there's an attack on any community. That's what the clergy of the city do. That's what the elected officials, the faith leaders, the community leaders you see here – everybody comes together to defend each other. This will be our way forward.

We are gathered because of a tragedy and it is a horrifying tragedy, but that should not take away our heart. I thought what Rabbi said was so crucial – that even after the attack last night – the horrific attack in Monsey – the Rabbi insisted that the ceremony go forward to remind us of something greater. We are all gathered here – look around, people here represent all of Brooklyn, all of New York City. We are gathered in common cause to overcome this hatred. And I don't want people to forget that we have confronted hatred before in this city. We've confronted division, it has broken out in violence, and yet, working together, we have snuffed out that hatred. We have forced it back.

We as New Yorkers have the ability to stop the hatred. You have the ability to stop the violence. We have done it before and we will do it again. People gathered here represent what's right about this city and are here for each other and are here in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters who are hurting right now. I want to thank everyone who is here. I'm going to let you know about the elected officials who have joined us, there’s obviously many, many community leaders and faith leaders as well. I want to thank Comptroller Scott Stringer; Senator Zellnor Myrie; Senator Kevin Parker; Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte; Assembly Member Mathylde Frontus; Assembly Member Diana Richardson; Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon; Council Member Brad Lander; Council Member Rory Lancman. From our administration, Deborah Lauter, the Executive Director of the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes, and Erin Cumberbatch, the Executive Director of the Office to Prevent Gun Violence. 

We’re going to talk about how to stop violence before it happens. This is one of the announcements we'll make today based on real experience we've had in the city, stopping violence at the neighborhood level. But it's first important to recognize, an attack on Monsey as an attack on us. They’re not only our neighbors geographically, there’s a deep, deep connection between the Monsey community and New York City, and particularly Brooklyn. The attack on that community, is an attack on this community, is an attack on all of us – we feel it that way.

Thank God we are all protected by the finest police force anywhere in the world and I want to thank our officers from 32nd Precinct who so bravely and quickly apprehended the perpetrator, keeping us all safer.

[Applause]

But even with the best police force in the world, so many people are feeling fear right now. We have to be honest about the level of fear that people are feeling. You have to be honest about how it feels different. I've talked to people in my own life, friends I've known a long time who are hesitating or worrying that if they put on a symbol of their Jewish faith, they might be targeted. That is not acceptable in New York City or anywhere in this country, anywhere in this world that someone would have to fear expressing who they are. We cannot let that be the new normal. We will not let that be the new normal in this city. We are going to take steps today, building upon the extraordinary efforts of so many of these leaders at the neighborhood level and the efforts the NYPD has been building over months and months. We will add to those efforts today. But I want to thank the NYPD for its continued intense presence in the community in these last weeks. I want to thank the NYPD for always reinforcing and supporting any community that comes under attack. If the Jewish community is attacked here or elsewhere in the world, the NYPD is there – and the same for the Muslim community, or the LGBT community, or any community. I want to thank the NYPD as well – and Deputy Commissioner John Miller, who’s here – for creating a specific unit to combat ethnically and racially motivated extremism. This is something that may not have seemed necessary a few years ago, but it sure is necessary now. And the NYPD has shown its extraordinary ability to gather intelligence and come up with strategies to stop violence before it happens. That's what's protected us against international terrorism. It will protect us against domestic threats as well, but there's more to do. The spirit we bring today is one of resolve and relentlessness. We will keep adding as many measures as it takes to end this crisis. 

Today, I announce additional NYPD presence. On Friday, I told you we were reinforcing three neighborhoods, Williamsburg, Crown Heights, and Borough Park here in Brooklyn. We will add additional officers on top of that, which we already planned to do Friday, so that people in the community will see our officers present in front of houses of worship and out on the streets. We have to give people a sense of security and we have to show that this horrible trend we've seen over the last weeks will be stopped dead in its tracks. There'll be additional light towers at key locations and communities. There are already 15 up, six more coming and we will add as needed to give people the sense of safety and security they deserve. We will be adding more security cameras in these communities as a preventative measure and to help us know, God forbid, if there ever is an incident, how to catch the perpetrators. 

It is crucial to say that these actions will have a powerful impact, but as we know from all our efforts over the years in the fight against terror and the fight against crime, the NYPD cannot do it alone, it requires the active assistance of all New Yorkers. So, that phrase, if you see something, say something, really matters now. If you hear someone saying something threatening towards the Jewish community, or any community; if you hear someone contemplating an act of violence or you see them acting in a manner that suggests that violence is imminent, the NYPD needs to know right away. Do not hesitate. Call 9-1-1. 

The second announcement today is the creation of Neighborhood Safety Coalitions. This takes the model that has been created for the Cure Violence movement, supported by the City of New York, building grassroots leadership to literally intervene and stop violence before it happens. The story f these last years in the Cure Violence movement has been extraordinary. Neighborhood people prepared and trained to see the signs of violence coming to stop them before it happens. In this case, we will add an additional feature. It won't just be people of one background in one neighborhood, it will be people of multiple backgrounds working together.

The story of Crown Heights bears remembering right now, a community once so horribly torn asunder, and yet – and some of the people here in this room are heroes of this history – people from the African-American community, people from the Jewish community came together – constant dialogue, constant effort to reach residents of the community, particularly our young people. And it took painstaking work, but the division that was felt 25-30 years ago has been changed into a community where people work together. There's more to do, obviously. There's more to do, particularly to reach our young people. But we know through the evidence of years and years of progress in Crown Heights, and we know from the Cure Violence initiatives all over the city that a grassroots model works. So, you'll see clergy and community leaders and activists of different communities out in the streets, working together, talking to young people, engaging, being present where there's a problem, showing that, that presence is one of mutual respect and that there is one form of intolerance that we all agree with – intolerance towards violence. And these community efforts, they will be more than just a standard community patrol. Starting next month, you will see people of different communities, working together on key corners on key streets showing a united front and engaging anytime there is a threat of violence. You'll see these efforts in Williamsburg and Borough Park, and we will build upon the efforts that already exist in Crown Heights and expand them.

The third point I want to make, we have to reach our young people more effectively. This is the crux of so much of what we're seeing right now, young people who somehow have come to assume that bias is acceptable. We will not let that happen in New York City. Young people who don't even understand the meaning of their actions, don’t understand that hatred only breeds more hatred, that hatred directed at one community will soon come back to hurt you and your own community. This is the lesson of history. We think back to the horrors of the 1930s and 1940s. We were reminded that when hatred takes a violent form, it then moves from one community to the next to the next and so many can be lost as that horrible momentum builds. Our young people have to understand this history, but we have to teach it to them. We will be adding immediately in these communities in Brooklyn, additional curriculum in our schools starting next month to focus on stopping hate, to focus on building mutual respect, to help young people understand what hate crimes really mean and the dangers they pose to all of us.

I'll close with this before turning to Commissioner Shea and some of my colleagues. Hate crimes – the word doesn't even begin to capture the full reality. It is not just a physical attack. Hate crimes constitute an attack on our society, on our democracy, on our values. The point Rabbi made, some are trying to extinguish a light that we have all worked so hard to build in this city, a light of understanding, of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence. We will not let them do that. Any hate crime tries to take us backwards. We will not go backwards. We will never go back to the past that we suffered through. We have learned from those mistakes of the past, how to do better. It's just for us to see clearly what's happening and act aggressively and act now. 

A little bit later this evening, an extraordinary event will happen in Grand Army Plaza, the lighting of the largest menorah in the world, and it takes on added meaning tonight. The menorah symbolizes the positive, the light, the hope. Everyone tonight should remember that hope and act to build it. For all those in the Jewish community who are feeling pain and feeling fear right now, when you light that candle tonight, know that we stand with you, that you should not have to live in fear and we will not allow it. Every one of us has to light those candles, and tonight in Grand Army Plaza we will stand together in solidarity with the Jewish community. We will show New York City, we will show the world who we are. An attack on one of us, is an attack on all of us and we will not let it stand. 

I turn to our Police Commissioner with tremendous thanks for all the men and women of the NYPD do for us, and particularly for the extraordinary actions last night of our officers in the 3-2 Precinct. Commissioner Dermot Shea –

[Applause]

Police Commissioner Dermot F. Shea: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. First and foremost, good afternoon, everyone. I want to extend our thoughts and sympathy for the five victims in this case, family and friends, and to the greater Monsey community for this terrible act. I want to walk you through from the NYPD perspective what we experienced last night. John Miller was mentioned, who's in attendance – also with me is Assistant Chief Martine Materasso who heads our Counterterrorism Bureau, both of whom were out on the street last night as this event was unfolding and as it led to New York City. Almost immediately, just before 10 o’clock, we learned of this incident within minutes of it. We had NYPD resources on the ground in Monsey, again, within minutes of the incident taking place. Instant dialogue was occurring between myself, Chief Terry Monahan, the Chief of Department; John Miller, Tom Galati; Martine Materasso; and many others, not yet knowing how it was going to touch New York City as it did. About an hour after the incident took place as it was reported earlier today based on a license plate that fled the scene, a license plate hit was recorded that the car entered New York City. Shortly thereafter, within probably 20 to 30 minutes, two young officers from the 32nd Precinct not long after turning out for a night's tour of duty in Harlem encountered that vehicle. Officer Radziwon, Officer Mattera, both of the 32nd Precinct, I would like to say personally to them, as a New Yorker, thank you.

[Applause]

More importantly, as the Police Commissioner, I would like to say how proud I am of their work. I have no doubt that their speedy efforts last night, keen work saved lives whether it was last night, maybe tonight, or in the future. So, they are to be publicly commended for their efforts, taking a very dangerous individual into custody without firing a shot, without any struggle. So, excellent, excellent work. 

So, it's a little surreal to be standing here. Less than three weeks ago, I stood next to the Mayor at a different location in Brooklyn at a different press conference, but speaking about the same topic days after Jersey City, and here we are again. It is truly, to me, surreal to be having the same conversation – a conversation about hate, the conversation about intolerance. We've been speaking – what we've been seeing in New York City on the crime side for some time this year, an increase in swastikas, an increase in hate speech, escalation into shoving, some assaults, a 21 percent increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York City. And now, here we are today. This didn't occur in New York City, but it certainly touched New York City and it shows how the world is – whether it's Jersey City, whether it's California, whether it's Pittsburgh, as I said a couple of weeks ago, this affects us all. I can tell you that beginning in Jersey City, we have had increased deployment and all houses of worship throughout New York City, specifically in areas of Jewish faith that has been maintained the last several weeks, and it will, as the Mayor said, intensify, going forward. We can get into specifics of the off-topic afterwards. 

I just want to finish with saying, press conferences, speaking about it after the fact – what we need to do is speak about it before the fact. We need to call out hate. We need to speak openly, whether it's the Police Department, community members, as the Mayor said, working together, or leaders throughout New York City, calling out hate when it's spoken before it gets to an incident like this.

[Applause]

[…]

Mayor: We’re going to take questions from the media on the attack in Monsey, the NYPD response to it and the measures that we are taking to address the situation now and going forward.

Yes?

Question: Mayor de Blasio, if I could ask Commissioner Shea, what can you tell us about why the suspect may have fled to Harlem and anything he may have said to the officer's there that would shed light on this attack?

Commissioner Shea: So, so as I mentioned before, when you, when you look at the time, took roughly an hour before he crossed – the vehicle crossed over the George Washington Bridge. Again, I mean I glanced over some of the details here, but in immediate conversations with people on the ground, again, John Miller, Tom Galati, Martine, Terry Monahan, myself and many others coming up with a really coherent and executable plan and it was really executed flawlessly. Martine was out there running around last night in terms of getting the plate, in terms of using the plate readers, in terms of broadcasting that plate through our Lower Manhattan security initiative - phenomenal work through Counterterrorism Bureau, the Intelligence Bureau, and ultimately led to those sharp-eyed police officers stopping the car.

Question: [Inaudible]

Commissioner Shea: Early on in the investigation. Obviously, we are working very closely, as you know, just as we were with Jersey City, with our federal partners, with our state and local partners to answer all of those questions. It’s a little; it's a little preliminary at this point. Why in New York City? What was the draw? Clearly that's something we're going to be looking at and peel back in terms of what does that mean going forward?

Question: Did he say anything to officers that you might be able to share with us?

Commissioner Shea: Almost nothing.

Mayor: Stick around, I'm sure it would be others. Okay. Yes.

Question: Mayor, obviously there've been some concerns that as these attacks increase, as the law enforcement presence increases as a result that could inflame more tensions. Obviously, there are some tangents between some communities and law enforcement. How do you balance those needs with trying to stem these attacks?

Mayor: First of all, the whole approach today with policing that has been put into effect over the last six years. It was meant to bring police and community closer together and Commissioner Shea has been one of the architects of that. So, when people see more police presence, it is going to be accompanied by a dialogue and an effort to really connect and communicate about what's going on and why it's going on. A lot of times I've heard from New Yorkers for years and years that, you know, there'll be police activity. They didn't know what was going on or what it meant. We now put a real value on our officers getting out there and explaining to people what they're doing, why it matters to the community, hearing back from the community what they need and what they have to say. Because a lot of times what we're finding with neighborhood policing is community members will offer our officer's information so they can stop crimes. But I also think we have to recognize the nature of this crisis. This is systematic in the sense that we have seen attack after attack after attack. It's not organized. It's not coming from a single source. As we said earlier, there's no specific incredible threat against New York City, but it has been consistent and therefore we have to take extraordinary measures. People cannot live in fear.

Yes?

Question: Two questions – one for the Mayor, and one for the Commissioner. First, obviously you announced measures that could take time to be implemented and to show success. What do you say to the father who walks out of his home tomorrow morning to work on the subway? What do you say to the mother who sends a child to school tomorrow?

Mayor: I'm a parent and I would say to them exactly what I would want a mayor to say to me that we will protect you. We are sending in more and more of the finest police officers in this country to protect the community. We are taking additional measures not in the far future but next month, immediately to show the kind of presence at the grassroots from community leaders that's going to make a difference and has before. Another thing I would say to that mother and father is we have seen in the past when tensions led to violence, how the community of Crown Heights came together to overcome it, so people could live in peace. This situation, thank God, is much less troubling than what we saw then. This situation can be stopped and will be stopped. It begins with that consistent police presence. It begins with the light towers that have been put in. You will see more light towers, you will see cameras, you will see more police, you will see community patrols. We will keep adding until we resolve this issue.

Question: [Inaudible] tomorrow.

Mayor: Again, the additional police presence is happening immediately. We made an announcement Friday that was acted on immediately. The announcement we're making now will be acted on immediately.

Question: Commissioner, obviously there's been a string of anti-Semitic attacks, NYPD is investigating. Can you share what the NYPD has found? And what are the motives are?

Commissioner Shea: Well, it's what I said before. It's a combination of hate. It's a combination of intolerance, ignorance. Your last question, I thank you for the question, but let me tell you, it makes me mad as hell just that you asked that question that we have people living in this city in 2019 – think about it, that have to worry about their kids, go into school, and what they're wearing or go into a movie that they're going to be targeted because of how they look or they're afraid to worship whatever their religion is. It makes me angry and mad as hell and it's going to take all New Yorkers, not just the NYPD. It's going to take everyone up here. That's why we're standing in unity up here to combat this. I don't believe that that individual yesterday woke up and said, I'm going to do this. I think there's warning signs and I think that truly people need to stand up and maybe uncomfortable at times, but call out hate when you see hate, call out when people are, whether it's on social media, whether it's standing on a street corner, professing hate, call it out, let us know. We will be there as we have been to protect the Jewish community. We're going to do more than ever at time because this is a crisis.

Mayor: Yeah.

Question: Commissioner, what can you tell us about Grafton Thomas, how he came to end up at the rabbi's house?

Commissioner Shea: I'm going to, I'm going to defer most of that to the Monsey police and the Rockland County investigation that's underway. But I'll tell you it's very early on and we will leave working with our law enforcement partners, literally no stone unturned to determine was there anyone else involved in this? And the answer to that question before you ask is, we have nothing to indicate at this time that there were other people, but that will be part of a very lengthy, very methodical and thorough investigation

Question: Was he on your radar before?

Commissioner Shea: I'm not going to say anything else.

Mayor: Yes.

Question: Yeah. Two questions. Do you think that the New York National Guard needs to be deployed to protect the Jewish community?

Mayor: I think the NYPD is the most effective police force in the country and we are using the principles that have gotten us to this point, the safest big city in America, precision policing, neighborhood policing, COMP-STAT, all of these tools that for a quarter century have proven themselves to work. We're applying them in this crisis so that we will literally move as many officers into place as we need to. And all the other measures we're talking about to the point that this crisis ends, the NYPD has proven its ability to do it. We always welcome support, but we should not for a moment miss the fact that the NYPD is who keeps the city safe.

[Applause]

Question: Can you tell us what the Office for Prevention of Hate Crimes has been engaged in since it opened in the fall?

Mayor: The whole idea of that office is to figure out the long-term solutions. This problem obviously was growing for years. It has to be attacked on a systematic level. The office was started with the mission of going out to communities to ask community members, community leaders, experts in stopping hate – clergy, what they think are the building blocks to change and we know then those strategies will take time. There's a big difference between what we're announcing here, which are all immediate measures versus the painstaking work, that has to be done to try and reverse this trend for the long-term. That second part is what that office does.

Anybody over here? Yes?

Question: This goes, I think from the same call from state – city lawmakers to State Attorney General James, do you support their call say to appoint as special prosecutor to prosecute anti-Semitic violence?

New York State Attorney General Letitia James: So, the Office of Attorney General is well equipped to investigate and to work with NYPD and state police to investigate hate crimes. And we will continue to do that. Let me also say that as part of our investigation into social media, we were also looking into whether or not they can do something to address this hate that unfortunately is on the media outlets all over the Internet.

Mayor: Yeah, and I want to emphasize this point as we talk about the long-term solutions. We have to come to grips with the reality of social media. There is no mistaking the fact that this tendency towards hate and acting on hate has grown in the last three years, but it's also grown with the advent of social media. And we need some new standards and norms in this society for how to deal with this. The – I've said it before the social media companies try to stand apart and act like they have no culpability, that's just not true. They have to be part of the solution too. And one of the things our Office to Prevent Hate Crimes will work on is how to move those companies or shame them if we need to and to no longer being vessels for hate speech. Anyone else? Yes.

Question: Mayor, you talked about there being an educational component as part of your response to this. Can you tell us a little bit more about what schools and what students – who's going to be teaching this?

Mayor: I'll get you the exact locations, but let me give you the, the frameworks and understand it. What we're seeing is these horrible attacks that have happened outside our borders. Don't for a moment obscure the fact that there had been problems in specific neighborhoods in New York City. And we are not missing the fact that it is specific neighborhoods. When I talk about, Williamsburg, Crown Heights Borough Park, that's been where a disproportionate number of these attacks have been concentrated. We're going to look in every part of the city to keep people safe. But in terms of the work we have to do to stop anti-Semitism, to teach young people why anti-Semitism is both morally wrong and dangerous to everyone to teach that history. One of the things that we've heard more and more in these last weeks is reports from educators and community members who say there are young people doing something absolutely horrible, scrawling a swastika on the wall of a Jewish community center without even knowing what a swastika is, acting out of a blind anger. We have to address that. So, the schools will be the ones in the communities where the problems are happening to reach those young people, starting in January, immediately when school comes back and really emphasize this message that what they’re doing – what some of them are doing, obviously, has horrible and painful and long-term consequences. That's where we're going to focus our efforts. Yes?

Question: If can ask Rabbi Potasnik, what are you telling your congregants right now as to how to how to deal with this? Do [inaudible] or if, God forbid, the attack should come right to a personal level, how to deal with that situation? 

Rabbi Potasnik: I’m proud to say that, here in New York, every congregation that I know has a very strong relationship with NYPD – every congregation I know. And I think this applies also to, you know, the non-Jewish faith community. Every congregation has a plan, a security plan. And God forbid there's an attack. So, we have great faith in God, but we have great faith in NYPD. And together, that gives us strength during this very, very troubling time.

Question: Do you foresee any conflict of prosecuting anti-Semitic attacks or hate crimes with the bail reform that's going to take place on the 1st. I know last week – 

Commissioner Shea: I think you’re talking about two separate things. The bail reform is when someone is arrested, whether they're going to stay in jail, pending that the outcome – it really has no effect on the ultimate outcome of the case. 

Mayor: Yeah, and thank you, Commissioner, for that clarification, because I think there's a lot of misunderstanding. I just want to amplify. What has happened for decades and decades? Someone's arrested for a crime, if the judge chooses to post bail and that person can make bail, they’re out on the street, and for a very, very high percentage of people, that’s exactly what they did. The basics don't change under this reality. Now, that said, I've been very open, the Commissioner’s been very open – we would like to see some improvements made to the State bail reform legislation. It was not exactly what we thought was needed. We think it can be addressed. We think the impulse behind that legislation is a good one, but that legislation needs to be improved to protect the rights of judges, to have flexibility to hold someone in when they present a danger to the community. But the fundamental notion of the bail reform is that many, many people were being held in awaiting trial simply because they didn't have enough money and often for very low-level offenses. That principle we all stand by. We don't want to see that happen to someone. We don't want to see that happen morally. We don't want the taxpayer to have to pay the cost of holding someone who just couldn't afford bail, but would have had the right to leave if they could afford bail. But that said, we are going to go to Albany once again asking the legislature to improve that bill and add some additional protections. 

Who hasn't gone? Yes?

Question: Mr. Mayor, you used [inaudible] operative word, we’re in a crisis right now. Thank you for using that word. Would you take it a step further and say that this is a state of emergency?

Mayor: I it’s right to say crisis. I think when we say state of emergency, it often infers very particular powers being utilized. Right now, I think we're in a crisis that can be addressed with the tools we have at hand, but it's going to mean using those tools very aggressively, very visibly in ways we have not done before, because, honestly, we didn't see this kind of crisis in recent years. That's where we are now. I hope to never get to that next point. 

Who has not gone anyone? Yes. Media? Okay, just media questions right now. Go ahead.

Question: Commissioner, could you walk us through in as vivid terms as possible the moment of the encounter between the patrol officers and [inaudible] what they see and how he presents himself?

Commissioner Shea: Yeah. So, as a matter of fact, I think the plan is probably before midnight we will be releasing a video of that – the entire incident was captured video. What you will see when you see that video is the car with the perpetrator is stopped at an intersection. You see a police car, an SUV, pull up, block it in, you see two officers immediately get out of that car, approach the suspect, the car door of the suspect's car opens and he gets out on his own. Both officers, at gunpoint, get him into handcuffs without any struggle whatsoever. As this is happening simultaneously, you see about another three or four marked police cars converge on that corner. So, the entire incident took place in probably 10 to 15 seconds. It was without incident in terms of struggle. And that car then remained that throughout the evening, processed for a crime scene, ultimately towed away. 

Question: Did it smell of blood? Smell of bleach? 

Commissioner Shea: I’m not going to get into the specifics. 

Mayor: We're just going to see if there's any last media questions, but I want to acknowledge and thank for joining us Senator Brian Kavanagh. And again, thank you to all the elected officials. I'm sorry, and Council Member Rory Lancman as well. Thank you to all the elected officials who have joined us and all the community leaders. 

[Applause]

Last call. Any media questions? Last call. 

Okay. Thank you, everyone.

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