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Queens Chronicle

BACK TO SCHOOL & FALL GUIDE 2019 Pol: Teach hate symbols’ meaning

Do kids know what a noose means?

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Posted: Thursday, August 29, 2019 10:30 am

In February, three juveniles were charged with drawing dozens of swastikas in chalk on the playground of PS 139 in Rego Park. Police and elected officials defined the incident as a hate crime. “There is no way around it,” Capt. Jonathan Cermeli, commanding officer of the 112th Precinct, told the Chronicle then. “That is a hate crime.”

But Robert Dicker, practicing child and adolescent psychiatry doctor at Northwell Health, was not as quick to define it as an act of hatred. He told the Chronicle at the time that the teens may not have known the meaning behind the symbol, used by the German Nazis before and during World War II. “They see that symbol, they see it in the news and have no idea what it’s associated with,” he said. “Needless to say, it’s in the news fairly often. I don’t know how suggestible they are.”

Soon, though, they and millions of other students may be required to learn the hateful nature of the swastika. State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Nassau County) recently proposed a state bill that would mandate that public and private school students in grades six to 12 be educated on the meaning of swastikas and nooses, two symbols of hate used against Jews and blacks, respectively.

“Sadly, many young perpetrators do not really know the pain and bigotry these symbols convey,” Kaminsky, who represents large Jewish communities on Nassau’s South Shore, said in a statement. “Education is key in the fight for unity.”

According to the bill, the state Board of Regents would be required to design a plan on how to incorporate lessons on both symbols into existing school curricula. If passed by the state Senate and Assembly, and signed by Gov. Cuomo, it would be become effective Sept. 1, 2020.

Kaminsky proposed the bill after seven swastikas were found on a pavilion at Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park in Oyster Bay, LI. In addition to the ones found at PS 139 earlier this year, Queens has seen several swastikas drawn or etched on private and public property in recent months (see sidebar).

The incidents are part of an increase in anti-Semitic cases reported across the country, according to the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish advocacy group. The group said there were 1,879 cases of verbal and physical violence, vandalism and more against Jews nationwide in 2018. Of those cases, 774 were vandalism (in 2017, there were 952).

And in May, the New York City Police Department said the first quarter of 2019 saw 82 percent more anti-Semitic crimes than the first four months of 2018.

Nooses, used to evoke lynchings, have been found in more hate crimes across the country. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks reports of hate crimes, said there were nearly 1,800 such cases nationwide from the election of President Trump to February 2017. In many of those cases, the SPLC said, a noose was found on private or public property.

Several Queens state and city representatives said they support Kaminsky’s proposal to mandate education about the hate symbols. Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), who has a large Jewish constituency, supports the measure but would like to see even more done, according to her spokesman Michael Cohen.

“She does question, however, why the bill addresses only two hate symbols and does not include other hate symbols, such as white supremacist symbols,” Cohen said in an email. White supremacist symbols can include, but are not limited to, the Confederate flag, the Blood Drop Cross (a cross with a blood drop in the center) and 14 Words (a reference to the white supremacist slogan: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”).

Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Rockaway Park), who represents large Jewish communities in Rockaway, commended Kaminsky for introducing the legislation. “Education is key in our efforts as a state to prevent hate crimes.”

Pheffer Amato was not the only one to say that education about the symbols could potentially prevent future cases. “I absolutely believe it could,” Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), who is Jewish, told the Chronicle. “There are many people who are perhaps unaware of what the meaning of swastikas is.”

Weprin, whose district has seen many anti-Semitic acts, likened the proposal to one of his bill’s that Cuomo recently signed into law, which bars workplace discrimination on the basis of religious attire or facial hair. “We have Sikhs who wear beards, Jews who wear yarmulkes and other religious people who have their own garb,” Weprin said. “We need to teach people that it’s not OK to hate people based on their religion.”

State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), a member of the Education Committee, said he plans on voting for the bill when it comes before the panel and the entire state Senate. “I can’t see how anyone would have a problem with this bill,” Addabbo said. “It’s a common sense bill that could be enacted administratively without legislation.”

Addabbo, too, compared it to a bill he’s proposed – one that would require a moment of silence in public school classrooms on Sept. 11 to mourn those lost in the terrorist attacks. That bill passed the Senate and Assembly, and is awaiting Gov. Cuomo’s signature.

“There are only a handful of Holocaust survivors left, and so the only way people will know about the horrible acts of those times are through the classroom,” he said. “Similarly, many of our schoolchildren weren’t even born on Sept. 11 so it’s important to teach them why that day’s important.”

The history of swastikas and nooses as hate symbols

For centuries, the swastika was used in Hinduism, Buddhism and other religions throughout Asia and was associated with good fortune. Its origins as a hate symbol date back to the early 20th century, when right-wing German nationalists adopted it as their symbol. Adolf Hitler then used it as the primary symbol for the Nazi Party in 1920, and it has since been associated with anti-Semitism and white supremacy.

The swastika was emblazoned on the Nazi flag as it ruled over Germany, and was on the uniforms of Nazi soldiers who fought in battle and carried out the murders of millions of Jews during the Holocaust.

Its display is prohibited in Germany, and Kaminsky has proposed another bill that would do the same in New York. “Since 1945, the swastika has served as the most significant and notorious of hate symbols, anti-Semitism and white supremacy for most of the world outside of Asia,” the ADL states on its website.

What the swastika is for Jews, the hangman’s noose is for blacks. Many blacks were hanged in the South following the Civil War, and the noose quickly became associated with the white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan. Those who opposed desegregation also used it to kill and oppress protesters during the Civil Rights Movement.

Since then, blacks and other minorities have been targeted with nooses left outside their homes, shops or on public property in largely African-American communities. In 2017, two nooses were found on Smithsonian property in Washington, DC, including one at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

— Anthony O’Reilly
Recent cases of swastikas found in Queens

February 2019: Three juveniles allegedly drew dozens of swastikas, including one that had an eagle perched atop it, the symbol of the Nazi party, on the playground at PS 139 at Rego Park. The Soviet hammer and sickle were also allegedly drawn by the youth. Police said at the time they were approaching it as a hate crime.

November 2018: Posters at the 67th Avenue subway station in Forest Hills were defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti that included a swastika and praise for Hitler.

November 2018: A swastika was found in a bathroom stall in the boys’ restroom of an unidentified Long Island City school.

October 2018: A swastika was drawn on a doorpost in a subway station.

August 2018: A swastika was found on the Flushing Business Improvement District’s booth at Main Street and Kissena Boulevard.

April 2018: The 107th Precinct discovered a swastika drawn on the abandoned Holliswood Hospital site. A similar incident occurred there in June 2017.

Source: Anti-Defamation League

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