NY AG: New hate crime stats undercount antisemitism

Recount

New York Attorney General Letitia James said police and community members both shoulder blame for underreporting such incidents

Alec Perkins

New York Attorney General Letitia James

Recently released statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation — indicating the highest number of antisemitic hate crimes in a decade — “severely” undercounted the number of incidents, New York Attorney General Letitia James said on Monday.

James and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost joined a webcast hosted by the American Jewish Committee to discuss the release of the FBI’s annual hate crimes report, which found that hate crimes targeting the Jewish community had increased by 14% in 2019.

James said she questioned the accuracy of the data, suggesting that underreporting from both local law enforcement and the impacted communities themselves led to a lower number.

The New York attorney general — who described herself as an “honorary member of the Orthodox community,” having represented Crown Heights in the New York City Council for 10 years — sees the latter issue as a particular problem in what she called the “insular” Orthodox Jewish community.

“Going forward, obviously we’ve got to do a better job, particularly in the Orthodox community,” she said. “We’ve got to inform them and educate them and encourage them with respect to reporting these crimes.”

Yost agreed that underreporting is an issue for many categories of crimes, not just hate crimes, but noted that the victims of hate crimes are more than statistics laid out in data.

“We’re talking about hate crimes. That’s measured one life at a time. One case file at a time. This doesn’t happen to X number of people, it happens to one person… Someone who’s going to carry that trauma with them, the rest of their lives,” he said. “As much as I care about the data, it’s not the numbers that move me, it’s the stories.”

The Ohio attorney general criticized New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for his particularly stringent enforcement of coronavirus mitigation measures in Orthodox Jewish communities.

“When you single out a particular group and other similarly situated groups are not called out, I think you’re really sending a subtle message that helps to create a fertile seed bed for antisemitism or for racism or what have you,” Yost said.

James and Yost diverged on recent discussions and protests over police accountability. While James saw them as a potential step toward rebuilding trust between citizens and the police — thereby increasing reporting of hate crimes — Yost painted a darker picture. 

“The notion of law enforcement being a tool of the popular will frightens me and… it should frighten every American who knows anything about history,” he said. “The Holocaust, the things that happened in Nazi Germany were popularly supported. Law enforcement famously looked by while lynchings occurred in the South. Why? Because it was popularly supported… I’m really concerned that in our rush to make policing more responsive in some communities, that we risk unleashing the genie from the bottle.”

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered daily in a must-read newsletter.