Jews around the world will soon celebrate the holiday of Passover, commemorating the exodus from Egypt and marking the constant survival of an ancient religion and people. Hopefully, all who observe will be able to do so in whatever manner they choose, traveling around their communities safely and without fear of violence.
In recent years, however, those fears have only increased. In 2019, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) claimed more bias crimes of harassment, vandalism, and assault against Jews in the United States than in any year since 1979, when the organization began keeping track. All told, there were more than 2,000 separate incidents of antisemitic violence around the country – a whopping 12 percent increase over the previous year.
Crimes against one community should be alarming to any person of faith. But it is particularly troubling for me and the officers I have the privilege of representing in the Sergeants Benevolent Association. Hate crimes of this nature are typically random acts, targeting any member of a particular group, as opposed to one individual over another. This makes them harder to predict or prevent. Furthermore, those who commit these crimes often target the most vulnerable populations, particularly the elderly or the infirmed.
Violent crimes targeting Asian Americans are also spiking, with horrific attacks in Atlanta the most recent wrenching incidents. The false idea of being different, or “other” – just as in the cases against Jewish Americans – often make them easier targets for those who peddle in hatred. All Americans, regardless of origin or religious belief, are protected under our laws.
Protecting all of our diverse neighbors is an oath sworn by me and my members.
There are proactive measures police departments can take to stem the tide of rising violence in Jewish communities and Asian communities alike. But it takes resources, such as money and manpower. More officers and managers, a larger police presence, and physical improvements like better lighting in areas around synagogues and other houses of worship are great places to start. Security cameras and reinforced doors are other measures that can go a long way in prevention and investigating crimes.
Education programs in key communities are another way to stop this hateful violence before it even begins. The NYPD and other departments often work with organizations like the ADL, the Jewish Community Relations Council, and UJA-Federation to better inform police officers up and down the chains of command about the warning signs of potential crimes against Jewish communities.
It takes vigilance on the part of police officers and the public at large. The more involved members of a community are in helping to protect their streets and their neighborhoods, the better. Civilians should never take matters into their own hands, but for years the NYPD has promoted a “See Something, Say Something” campaign, which has proven highly effective in reducing violence and bringing those involved to justice.
Prevention also takes political will.
Over the past decade, we have seen far-left and self-styled progressive politicians elected to public office. Many of them have talked openly about their hatred for Israel and its leadership, believing (falsely) that the world’s only Jewish state flouts international law. Much of the anger directed at Israel has spilled into attitudes against Jews in the United States. As anti Israel politics sadly becomes mainstream in the US, violence against Jews becomes normalized as something other than hate.
“It takes vigilance on the part of police officers and the public at large. The more involved members of a community are in helping to protect their streets and their neighborhoods, the better.”
With regards to Israel and international affairs, I – as a law enforcement professional – only see the actions of a government, the elected representatives of a people, protecting its citizens after years of terrorism against its unarmed civilians.
While the violence against American Jews is extremely troubling, police officers would be more effective preventing it if the rhetoric from our political leaders exhibited the same level of disgust at such violence as it has against Jews here in the United States and around the world. Public officials are adept at blaming – whether it’s police, or diverse Jewish communities – for unrest. It’s a shame politics have become so narrow minded.
We need to come together as law enforcement professionals and neighbors to stop this rising tide of antisemitism and violence directed at our Jewish communities. On this second Passover of the COVID-19 pandemic, the experience of a joyous and safe holiday would be a great place for us to start.
Ed Mullins is president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association of the NYPD.