Home inContext NY’s Hate Crime Sentence Upheld

NY’s Hate Crime Sentence Upheld

Samara Greenberg

The New York Court of Appeals ruled last week that a person can be guilty of a hate crime even if the violence is directed at a building, and not a person. The ruling was upheld in the case of a Palestinian man, Mazin Assi, convicted of trying to bomb a Bronx synagogue in 2000. “It is self-evident that, although the target of the defendant’s criminal conduct was a building, the true victims were the individuals of Jewish faith who were members of the synagogue,” Judge Victoria Graffeo wrote. She continued, “The evidence in this case proved that [the] defendant committed an attempted arson of the synagogue because of his anger toward a particular religious group.”

Assi, who is serving five to 15 years in prison for tossing Molotov cocktails at Congregation Adath Israel in Riverdale on the eve of Yom Kippur, would have already been out if only convicted of attempted arson. While Assi’s father holds that his “son is not a terrorist” and that “The judge is abusing his power to satisfy the Jewish community,” according to Rabbi Barry Katz of the Conservative Synagogue, Assi attacked the synagogue because he “hated us because we are Jews.”

The State of New York, in agreeing with Rabbi Katz, made the right decision last week. According to David Raim, an Anti-Defamation League lawyer, there are still “a significant number” of vandalism and property crimes against houses of worship in the United States. Indeed, the FBI reports that there were more than 9,000 hate crime offenses in 2008, one-third against property. From that, about half were racially motivated and almost 20 percent from religious bias. As Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson noted, “Protecting everyone demands that we permit no one to be attacked because of who they are. Our mission is to make the community safe for Jews, Arabs and all the people.”