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New York residents have mixed feelings about yet another statewide anti-bias program

Attendees applaud after New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul announced actions to combat hate crimes at her office in New York City in November 2022. Hochul has formed a new unit to combat hate and bias across the state that will focus on education, early detection and mobilizing support in areas where a bias-related incidents have occurred.
Timothy A. Clary
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AFP via Getty Images
Attendees applaud after New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul announced actions to combat hate crimes at her office in New York City in November 2022. Hochul has formed a new unit to combat hate and bias across the state that will focus on education, early detection and mobilizing support in areas where a bias-related incidents have occurred.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the creation of a Hate and Bias Prevention Unit to address the rising tide of antisemitic and other hate crimes New York has seen over the past year.

During a speech last week, Hochul said the new unit will be responsible for focusing on education, an early warning detection system in local communities and mobilizing a response in areas where a hate crime or bias-related incident took place.

The new program is a broader effort by Hochul's office to address hate crimes and violence across New York in the wake of the deadly mass shooting in Buffalo earlier this year.

But in light of the announcement, some experts are a bit skeptical about the overall vision of the newly formed unit.

How the new unit is supposed to work

Housed under the state's Division of Human Rights, the initiative is charged with organizing 10 regional councils across New York state made up of local stakeholders, according to officials.

The councils will aim to provide a place for community members to voice concerns, organize educational programming, conduct trainings in conflict resolution and facilitate the filing of complaints with the Division of Human Rights.

A rapid response team will also be created to assist communities in the state impacted by a bias or hate crime incident.

"New York State will use every tool at its disposal to eliminate hate and bias from our communities," Hochul said. "We will not let the rise in hate incidents that we see happening online, across the country and across the world, take root here at home."

Lt. Governor Antonio Delgado echoed Hochul's sentiments.

"We cannot allow ignorance, fear, and hatred to damage the enormous amount of work we've done to move our state forward," Delgado said in a news release.

"The partnerships that we're building within communities and across the state will ensure what we know to be true which is that love always prevails over hate," he added.

There's a bit of skepticism when it comes to the new unit

People gather at a memorial for the shooting victims outside of Tops grocery store on May 20, 2022 in Buffalo, N.Y.
Spencer Platt / Getty Images
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People gather at a memorial for the shooting victims outside of Tops grocery store on May 20, 2022 in Buffalo, N.Y.

News of New York state's newly formed Hate Crime and Prevention Unit is just one of many initiatives the state has launched in recent months following the Buffalo Tops supermarket shooting.

In August, Gov. Hochul announced new guidance to support the development of domestic terrorism prevention plans, pledging $10 million to assist counties across the state in the development of threat assessment management teams.

Last month, Hochul signed two bills into law; one requires people convicted of hate crimes to undergo training on hate crime prevention and education, and another supports the launch of a statewide campaign to promote acceptance, inclusion and tolerance of the diversity of New Yorkers.

However, with the rollout of new legislation and new initiatives, some experts say they're a bit skeptical about how exactly this will play out across the state.

"It's great that the governor is working [to address this], but part of what's happening is that very few details have been released and we're a little bit in the dark on how this will actually shake," Leo Ferguson, the director of strategic projects at Jews for Racial and Economic Justice told NPR.

"There are, I think, positive signs. And also a lot of skepticism," he added.

Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP New York State Conference, says that in order to address the state's hate crimes and acts of violence, a shift in focus with conversations is needed.

"We focus a lot on the problems instead of talking about solutions and the good things that happen in communities," Dukes said.

"There are many who are doing great work in their communities and we don't highlight that enough," she added. "We have to start at an early age with curriculum in schools — to show all people, all cultures that have contributed to this country and to the world that make it a better place."

Others in the U.S. are taking steps against combatting hate crimes

The New York state initiative comes at a time when new programs for reporting bias incidents are being put into place at the state and federal levels.

On the national level, the Justice Department announced in May a series of new guidelines and $10 million in new federal grants to help states develop hotlines for reporting incidents.

Additionally, the Justice Department issued new guidance this spring along with the Department of Health and Human Services aimed at raising awareness of hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic — as the U.S. experienced a surge of hate crimes and incidents against Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities.

This summer, Maryland officials launched an alert system, The Emmett Till Alerts system, to flag racist incidents and acts of hate.

Named in honor of the Black 14-year-old who was abducted, tortured and killed in 1955 after being accused of whistling at a white woman, the alert system serves as a warning system against racist incidents and acts of hate detected.

The alerts will be sent to 167 Black elected statewide officials in Maryland, along with national civil rights organizations, clergy members and other leaders.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Jonathan Franklin
Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.