Examiner Attorney: Swastika Vandal Should Be Charged

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Defaced copy of The Northern Westchester Examiner from November.

The vandal who defaced a copy of The Northern Westchester Examiner with swastikas and the letters KKK should be criminally charged, the newspaper’s lawyer contends in a letter he’s preparing to send to the Peekskill Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office and other relevant officials.

The man who committed the act admitted his guilt to Peekskill police but authorities concluded that while the act was wrong, it was not criminal.

But Todd Fishlin, an attorney representing Examiner Media, argues authorities should charge the perpetrator.

“Out of respect for all the families who fought and died against the Nazis in World War II, we owe it to those who sacrificed to prosecute all those who would seek to encourage the bigotry, hatred and murder the Nazis were responsible for causing,” said Fishlin of the Manhattan and Westchester-based law firm of Fishlin & Fishlin. “If we fail to prosecute this narrow exception to the First Amendment because we are afraid we won’t get a conviction, we dishonor our veterans. The DA should bring a charge, come what may at trial. This country desperately needs a reinforcement of the values of the Greatest Generation.”

Earlier this week, a SUNY Purchase student was charged with Aggravated Harassment in the First Degree, a class E felony, for hanging posters with Nazi symbols on campus. Fishlin believes the cases are similar from a legal perspective, arguing there are “only subtle differences.”

The crime of Aggravated Harassment requires proof of intent to harass, annoy or threaten another person by using swastikas, nooses or burning crosses, Fishlin stated.

“Clearly the individual at Purchase making and hanging Nazi posters intended someone to see them. The intent of the man drawing Nazi symbols on the Examiner is not as clear, which is why I believe a charge has not been brought,” Fishlin explained. “Whether a charge is brought comes from a standard analysis performed by police and district attorneys and it’s completely within their discretion. They want to win the cases they bring. However, I believe the police and the district attorneys should bring a charge here even if there is a less likely chance of proving intent.”

Police identified the man who committed the newspaper defacing act at Chase bank on Nov. 14 with the help of surveillance cameras at the 1025 Brown St. branch. The reader who originally discovered the defaced copy at the bank alerted police and the newspaper, prompting the probe. That week’s lead story, in the Nov. 13-Nov. 19 edition of The Northern Westchester Examiner, was about the election to Congress of Yorktown High School graduate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is of Puerto Rican descent. Although authorities maintained an arrest could not be made, in part, because a newspaper is not private property, police wanted to investigate regardless as part of an effort to deter future incidents. Police told Examiner Media this week that detectives located the perpetrator, who admitted to committing the act, but the department is not releasing his name.

“These kinds of acts can’t be tolerated in our city,” Detective Sgt. Jack Galusha remarked. “The snowball effect of a seemingly minor act of hate going unchecked could become a major issue. I’m glad to have sharp detectives that rarely forget a face or name.”

Examiner Publisher Adam Stone said he is grateful to Peekskill police for what he characterized as excellent detective work in locating the perpetrator but believes a criminal charge would send a much stronger message.

“It’s not just the committed neo-Nazis we have to worry about in this era of hate,” Stone said. “It’s also the people not previously inclined to hate who adopt the neo-Nazis’ violent ideas and symbols in ways large and small. Allowing these poisonous ideas to fester presents a great danger to our communities.”

Millie Jasper, executive director of the White Plains-based Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center, said that while she commends the Peekskill Police Department for its investigation, she believes there should be consequences.

“We believe that many bias-related incidents are the result of ignorance rather than malice so our overall goal is to educate and sensitize the offender – changing and rechanneling the bigoted and prejudicial attitude that often results in hostile and offensive acts,” Jasper said.  “We endeavor to foster tolerance for others, and respect for diversity. To that end, we hope that the judicial system insists that the guilty party be mandated to learn more about the effect hateful words, symbols and actions have on our society. To deface The Northern Westchester Examiner newspaper with hateful symbols – swastikas and KKK signs – without consequence shows the perpetrator that these actions are not only allowed, but encouraged.”

The number of reported hate crime incidents in 2017 jumped 17 percent over 2016 totals, according to the most recent F.B.I. data released last month.

The Westchester District Attorney’s Hate Crimes Unit confirmed late this afternoon that the office agrees with the conclusion of Peekskill police that no crime was committed.

“The District Attorney’s Office stands by the determination made by the Peekskill Police Department that it is not a criminal act,” the District Attorney’s Public Information Officer Helen Jonsen said. 

This story is developing, check back for updates. 


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