Most hate crime charges in New York dropped before sentencing

Pensioner Arquelio Rosa was knocked down a flight of stairs near his Kingsbridge flat in 2019 by a stranger who hurled racist and anti-Hispanic slurs at him. Photo by Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

This article was originally published on by THE CITY.

Local leaders promise harsh consequences for violence against Asians, Jews and other discriminated groups. But only 15% result in a hate crime conviction — and only 1% in the Bronx.

During a spike in violent crime last year aimed particularly at Asian Americans, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio launched an anti-hate campaign to highlight discriminatory attacks.

As he has done throughout his eight-year tenure, de Blasio spoke harsh words that day for bias-driven would-be abusers.

“If you even think about committing a hate crime, if you dare to raise your hand against a member of our Asian communities, you will suffer the consequences,” he told a press conference at the hotel. town on February 23.

More recently, high-profile hate crime charges include those the Manhattan District Attorney filed against Steven Zajonc, arrested last week in connection with a series of attacks on Asian women.

But in practice, the consequences of being charged with a hate crime can vary widely, as the results of these cases show – with pronounced differences between boroughs. The alleged perpetrators in many cases are young people exempt from the hate crime criminal code or those who have a mental illness at the root of their conduct.

And even when prosecutors are able to gather evidence and obtain indictments that include hate crime charges, plea bargaining often results in those charges being dropped at the time of sentencing.

Data obtained from the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services shows that of the 569 hate crime arrests that were solved in New York between 2015 and 2020, 65% resulted in convictions.

But even so, the hate crime component was dropped in the vast majority of cases. Only 87 cases, or 15% of hate crime arrests, resulted in a hate crime conviction, increasing the severity of the sentence for the underlying crime.

Among the city’s five district attorneys, that rate ranged from 23% in Manhattan to just 1% in the Bronx.

In fact, since Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark took control of the office in 2016, through 2020, only one out of 92 hate crime arrests has resulted in a hate crime conviction. .

Clark’s office secured an additional hate crime conviction in a case turned into a hate crime after the arrest, according to DCJS state officials, after prosecutors determined an alleged robber targeted elderly victims. His office also secured 42 convictions that exclude the original hate crime charge, including more than a dozen non-criminal convictions.

In Brooklyn, 30 out of 173 hate crime arrests led to hate crime convictions between 2015 and 2020, while the number was 15 out of 110 in Queens and 3 out of 30 in Staten Island, according to data from State that THE CITY obtained through Freedom of Information Act.

Former Mayor Bill de Blasio met with Jewish leaders in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in December 2019 following deadly anti-Semitic shootings in Jersey City.
Photo courtesy of the NYC Mayor’s Office

“So I kicked him”

On an otherwise ordinary afternoon in May 2018, Arquelio Negrón-Rosa was waiting for his grandson’s school bus outside his Bronx apartment when a stranger approached and asked for a cigarette.

After being pushed away, the man, later identified as Ibrahima Seck, became angry and called Negrón-Rosa a “Puerto Rican mother”.

The stranger kicked the 69-year-old in the chest and tumbled him down a cellar staircase, splitting Negrón-Rosa’s head open and permanently dislocating his right shoulder.

Later that day, Seck allegedly told a responding police officer that his victim “shouldn’t be talking bullshit – so I kicked him.” That’s why I hate Puerto Ricans.

Seck was indicted by a Bronx grand jury several weeks later on 12 counts — including attempted first-degree assault as a hate crime and second-degree assault as a hate crime, according to court records.

He pleaded guilty to lesser charges and agreed to enroll in an alcohol abuse program that would keep him out of jail if he stuck with it.

After successfully completing the program, Seck was allowed to plead again for a lesser charge — second-degree assault, not a hate crime — and was conditionally released, according to the prosecutor’s office. of the Bronx district.

Just a few weeks ago, Negrón-Rosa said he was unaware of the outcome of his case until a reporter from THE CITY informed him.

“I mean, imagine: everything I’ve been through, I’ve been down in the courthouse six times, I’ve spoken to lawyers, to prosecutors, and then with the pandemic…. I didn’t even have a clue what happened,” Negrón-Rosa said in Spanish.

“And to think that he and others like him are on the streets,” he added. “The city needs to make sure these guys don’t come out. Judges must lock them up.

“Destroyer for Society”

In 2000, New York became the 44th state to pass laws aimed at increasing penalties for criminals who select their victim based on a perceived characteristic, including race, gender, religion, disability or orientation. sexual.

The state Assembly had pushed a version of the legislation for 10 years, but it was stalled in the state Senate, where then-predominantly conservative lawmakers opposed the inclusion of sexual orientation as the one of the protected classes.

Some of the opponents told the New York Times shortly before the bill was passed feared that the law was akin to criminalizing someone’s thoughts and that it placed a higher value on certain types of victims than others.

In October 2000, shortly after signing the bill, then Governor. George Pataki, a Republican, said hate crimes “are so inherently destructive to society that they deserve special attention under the law.”

New York law imposes a longer sentence for a hate crime conviction by increasing the offense by one category, so that a class D felony becomes a class C, which increases the offense by several years. possible range of minimum and maximum penalties.

Additionally, a Class A felony, the highest misdemeanor category, becomes a Class E felony – the lowest felony category – when paired with a hate crime conviction.

For the most serious crimes, a hate crime designation lengthens the mandatory minimum but not the maximum.

More than 60 crimes fall under New York’s hate crimes law, from making simple threats to possessing a bioweapon.

In 2019, amid a wave of hate crimes largely targeting Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn, de Blasio, a Democrat, highlighted these heightened penalties by arguing for tough penalties for bias-based crimes.

“I want all the community leaders, but I also want to ask the media to get the message out that when someone is motivated by hate and it’s proven, it adds jail time, it adds consequences what they did,” said Blasio.

That same month, however, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez was spreading the opposite message — noting that positive outcomes in these types of cases are far from certain.

“People have no idea how difficult it is,” he told the Jewish publication. Hamody. “It’s the invisible operation of someone’s mind.”

Gonzalez explained that while some people facilitate bias — for example, by posting neo-Nazi viewpoints online — the majority of cases are not accompanied by hard evidence.

“There are other people who have hostile views and prejudices – but is that why they committed this crime?” González said. “Or was it really because two people got into a road rage situation, or they share a driveway and they’re neighbors and they’re arguing, ‘Why do you keep driving your car? in the middle of the night, waking up my family??’”

A spokesperson for Gonzalez’s office noted that he created a dedicated hate crimes office in 2018, which bolsters charges where appropriate.

“Protecting everyone in Brooklyn is the DA’s highest priority and it is simply unacceptable that members of certain groups are afraid to walk the streets,” spokeswoman Helen Peterson said. “The Hate Crimes Bureau is dedicated to investigating and prosecuting crimes motivated by a belief or perception regarding race, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation of the victim, and we are committed to holding offenders accountable.

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