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Rockland Leaders Lay Out Human Rights Strategy

Courtesy of Rockland County government and Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council

Rockland County leaders have come up with a human rights strategy following the Monsey machete attack at a rabbi’s home in late December.

Republican Rockland County Executive Ed Day outlined the strategy this week in the wake of the late December stabbings.

“We have made some inroads over the past few weeks in speaking to a number of, a variety of constituency groups, including some of those folks in the ultra-Orthodox area. And I have to credit one man in particular, Rabbi Rottenberg, whose house and synagogue was beset in that machete attack. He made it very clear; he said, we have to look forward, we can’t look back,” Day says. “And he also understood with the folks who were with him when I came by to visit him in the aftermath of that attack, that in order for us to start getting anywhere, we need to have a better understanding of each other, and that comes with speaking to each other and not at each other, and when we have these forums  which we’ve had over the last three years, that there needs to be attendance by folks who belong to all aspects of the, backgrounds of this county, including those of the ultra-Orthodox.”

Day says the ultra-Orthodox community has not been at the table for the county’s Human Rights Commission forums, but is hopeful that is about to change.

“I have more confidence now that they will engage in these forums than I have ever had before,” says Day. “There’s no absolute here.”

Rockland Commissioner on Human Rights Constance Frazier says there are short- and long-term strategies to combat crimes of hate, racism, violence, bias and vandalism. Commission members plan to meet with local officials, schools, and community, religious and ethnic groups to hear their needs, concerns and ideas first-hand. They plan to take that information to develop discussion topics for an upcoming annual Human Rights Symposium.

“We know that this is a county of smart, kind, caring individuals who will help us solve any problem and bridge any divide we face, but this will require compromise,” Frazier says.

The Rockland County Human Rights Symposium will be held March 25 at Rockland Community College in Suffern.

“As the Human Rights Commission and county government, we pledge to continue to press for greater openness, improved communication, improved communication, improved communication and push to increase understanding, as a community,” Frazier says.

Frazier says the Human Rights Commission will ask state lawmakers to amend New York’s new criminal justice reforms.

“The Commission will submit a request to our state representatives to alter the criminal justice reform process to ensure that all perpetrators of hate crimes are not released without bail back into the community,” Frazier says.

The reforms that took effect January 1 eliminated cash bail for most nonviolent offenses. Day sees a problem with them.

“Specifically, harassment first degree as a hate crime has fallen into that category because when they made the law, they didn’t ask any questions. And now, people who are committing hate crimes, in New York City, in particular, where there’s almost one a day down there, they turn around and they walk out the door, and couple of them went and reoffended,” Day says. “So this is where… stop the political nonsense, stop the various code-word conversations that are going on, just fix the existing legislation. You made a mistake, everybody knows it, just fix it.”

And Day says a proposed human rights law is being submitted to the county legislature.

“There is a state human rights law. We looked at ways of tightening that law up and making it stronger, but doing so in support of the existing legislation, the existing law, because that makes it less, there’s less of an ability to challenge it in court,” says Day. “So we had the thoughts that our Human Rights commissioner, our Human Rights Commission and our law department work together to come up with a stronger version of the state law. That is being submitted to the legislature for their consideration. I am hopeful they act immediately on it.”

Meantime, the suspect in the Monsey stabbings has been indicted on five new federal hate crime charges. Orange County resident Grafton Thomas also faces state charges in the December 28 attack inside the home of Monsey Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg during a Hanukkah celebration. His defense attorney has said Thomas has a long history of mental illness.

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