New York State Bar Association Calls for More Offenses To Be Added to Hate Crime Statute in Face of Rising Antisemitic, Anti-Asian Hate

By Rebecca Melnitsky

January 19, 2024

New York State Bar Association Calls for More Offenses To Be Added to Hate Crime Statute in Face of Rising Antisemitic, Anti-Asian Hate


By Rebecca Melnitsky

Brian Cohen and Vincent Chang, the co-chairs of the Task Force on Combating Antisemitism and Anti-Asian Hate.

In the face of an alarming rise of hate crimes across the state and nation, the New York State Bar Association is calling for a much-needed update of New York State law through the Hate Crimes Modernization Act. The act would expand the list of hate-crime-eligible offenses to include charges such as graffiti, criminal obstruction of breathing, and rape in the third degree.

This is one of the recommendations of the association’s Task Force on Combating Antisemitism and Anti-Asian Hate. Others focus on improving the reporting and prosecution of hate crimes, as well as preventing the spread of hate speech on the internet. The association’s governing body, the House of Delegates, approved the report on Friday, Jan. 19.

Since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, the Anti-Defamation League has documented 832 antisemitic incidents of assault, vandalism, and harassment across the United States in the month after, for an average of nearly 28 incidents a day. Even before Oct. 7, the ADL documented that antisemitic hate crimes steadily rose throughout the past decade.

Anti-Asian hate crimes in New York City, meanwhile, increased by 800% in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. And while the pandemic has slowed, anti-Asian hate has not — including the death of Jasmer Singh in a road rage attack in Queens on Oct. 19, 2023.

“Hate does not belong in our communities, and the victims of hate crimes – no matter what their race or religion is — need the law to take their pain seriously,” said Richard Lewis, president of the New York State Bar Association. “As antisemitism and anti-Asian hate have increased, this has become more important. I thank the task force for their thorough examination of existing law and laying the groundwork for improvement. We urge the Legislature to pass the Hate Crimes Modernization Act, along with all other necessary changes that this task force has identified.”

The New York State Bar Association also recommends:

  • That the law provides more examples of what constitutes a hate crime, including the actions of a defendant before and after an attack.
  • The passage of the Stop Hiding Hate Act, which would require social media companies to disclose the measures taken to moderate hate speech and is modeled on a law California enacted in 2022.
  • Adopting new measures – such as requiring police agencies to document all alleged hate crimes, regardless of whether they result in an arrest – to improve hate crime tracking and reporting.
  • Enforcing compliance of the Dignity for All Students Act, including creating a review board within the New York State Education Department.
  • Removing the word “substantial” from New York’s Hate Crime Act so it includes people who were attacked “in whole or in part” because of their characteristics, eliminating confusion in hate crime prosecution.

“Many crimes can be hate crimes, as long as the motive and intent are there,” said Brian Cohen, a partner at Lachtman Cohen & Belowich, who served as co-chair of the task force. “Catching the law up to this reality will go a long way in making our communities safer. I’m proud to say that we have the New York State Bar Association’s full support in this effort, and I hope we see our proposed changes soon passed into law.”

“The first step to fighting hate is identifying it,” added co-chair Vincent Chang, counsel at Davis Polk. “Aiding local authorities in sharing accurate information about the number of hate crimes is part of that step. We hope that the proposed legislation gives police, lawyers, and others the tools they need to prosecute hate crimes. I thank the task force members for their dedication and hard work in putting together this thoughtful and thorough report.”

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