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Officials unveil bill to educate about hate

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Lawmakers gathered on Tuesday to announce a new proposed bill aimed at curbing hate crimes. The legislation would mandate that middle and high schools teach about swastikas and nooses as hate symbols.

“We find ourselves confronting acts of anti-Semitism and racism that, in our day in age, we never thought we’d have to confront,” State Sen. Todd Kaminsky said at the morning news conference in front of his Rockville Centre office on Front Street. “But here we are, and we stand united and ready to take action.”

The proposed law arrives in the wake of an incident in Oyster Bay last week. On Aug. 8, anti-Semitic graffiti was found spray-painted on a pole at Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park. An investigation into the vandalism is ongoing.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran released a statement on Aug. 9 condemning the hateful act, saying, “we cannot look away from the fact that bigotry, including anti-Semitism, is on the rise … We will not tolerate it in Nassau, and we certainly will not look the other way.”

Curran and several other elected officials, including Town of Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen, attended Tuesday’s news conference to support the bill, which focuses on educating students about hate symbols and their effect on the demographics they target. While schools are mandated to teach about the Holocaust, there is no specific law requiring schools to talk about hate symbols.

Kaminsky is co-sponsoring the bill with State Senators Kevin Thomas, Shelley Mayer and Anna Kaplan, as well as Assemblyman Charles Lavine and Assemblywoman Judy Griffin.

“Swastikas are a symbol of intolerance and do not have a place in our society, [and] nooses are a symbol of racism and have a history of intimidation,” Griffin said. “It is so important that the meaning of these hateful symbols are taught to children in schools.”

The bill has quickly gained support from Long Island NAACP, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the regional Anti-Defamation League and the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center, all of which had representatives speak at the news conference. A Baldwin history teacher and a senior at Valley Stream Central High School also spoke to the importance of the bill.

In addition, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas explained there is a program in place to send young people who commit crimes of hateful vandalism to counseling. She noted that they come away with a deeper understanding of hate symbols. She praised the local officials for taking steps toward educating students before the fact, and not after.

“Most students don’t even know what [these symbols] mean,” she said. “While no one may get physically hurt by the drawing of a swastika or a noose, the symbols are demonizing and take away one’s sense of security and freedom.”