Westchester County Human Rights Commission Proposal to Fight Hate Crimes

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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a document adopted by the United Nations General Assembly guaranteeing freedoms to all peoples was adopted in Paris, France on Dec. 10, 1948.

The Declaration consists of 30 articles affirming an individual’s rights, which have been elaborated in subsequent international treaties, economic transfers, regional human rights instruments, national constitutions, and other laws.

The Declaration was the first step in the process of formulating the International Bill of Human Rights, which was completed in 1966, and came into force in 1976.

In 2018, 70 years after the UDHR was ratified, acts of hate continue worldwide and have been on the rise throughout the United States. Just this week, on the last night of Hanukkah, anti-Semitic posters with Nazi swastikas and pictures of Hitler were found on the SUNY Purchase campus.

In October 2018, the Westchester County Human Rights Commission (HRC) prepared a draft proposal on policies and procedures for the county government to respond to hate incidents.

The motto of the County Human Rights Commission is, “All human beings are born free and equal.” The purpose of the proposal is to create a collaborative response to hate incidents in the county and develop preventative measures through training, education and proactive communication.

The draft proposal, prepared by chair of the HRC
 Rev. Doris K. Dalton of White Plains, Commission Board members and staff, is open for public review and comment. A public forum to answer questions and receive comments will be held Monday, Dec. 17, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the White Plains Public Library, in the 2nd floor meeting room.

In preparing the proposal the HRC acknowledged that Westchester County has experienced a rising number of reported hate incidents over the past 24 months and that the HRC has observed an uneven response from law enforcement agencies and municipalities, causing confusion and concern among county residents.

The HRC also noted that many hate incidents go unreported, due to a lack of information and/or training regarding reporting.

A hate incident has been defined by HRC as an act motivated by prejudice or hatred that targets individuals, groups, or private/public property because of a perception or belief about the target’s race, color, national origin, ethnicity, ancestry, gender identity/expression, sexual orientation, religion, language, age, and disability (apparent or non-apparent).

The HRC further states that hate incidents are intended to intimidate the targeted group or individual, and although they are not necessarily crimes as defined by local, state, or federal penal codes, they can involve criminal conduct and still not meet one or more of the legal criteria required of a crime.

Whether or not a hate incident meets the legal definition of a crime under the penal code, victims tend to experience the same range of emotions, including feeling harassed, threatened, abused, anxious, fearful, and/or psychologically traumatized.

The HRC proposes collaboration between the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office, the Westchester County Commission of Public Safety and the Westchester County Human Rights Commission, including determining the best location to store hate incident data.

That data will be gathered by phone/hotline, web-based data collection, reporting apps, email, and in-person reporting at the HRC office.

The HRC proposes a mobile-based application for accessible and easy reporting.

The HRC also proposes implicit bias and hate crimes/incidents investigative training for municipal leaders, law enforcement, school superintendents, school leaders, faith-based community leaders, college campus safety offices and diversity staff, leaders in the local communities, and county government department heads, as well as an outreach plan to include a public awareness campaign.

A Rapid Response Team to respond immediately within hours of a hate incident in the County has been recommended.

The draft proposal can be viewed on the HRC’s Facebook page and website (https://humanrights.westchestergov.com/news/2537-we-are-born-free-and-equal-commission-addresses-recent-rise-in-hate-incidents).

Comments can be forwarded to the HRC at: hrc-inquiries@westchestergov.com or 914-995-7710.

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