New York State approves bill to broaden hate crimes law

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and a host of elected officials gathered in November of 2023 to announce the Hate Crimes Modernization Act.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and a host of elected officials gathered in November of 2023 to announce the Hate Crimes Modernization Act.
Dean Moses

A bill broadening the scope of hate crimes law was included in the state budget this month in an effort to allow prosecutors to punish violators with nearly two dozen additional offenses.

The Hate Crimes Modernization Act, proposed in the upper chamber by out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal and in the lower house by Assemblymember Grace Lee, was first introduced late last year in the wake of the Oct. 7 attack in Israel as the NYPD reported increases in bias cases, including antisemitic, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-Muslim incidents. The Hate Crimes Modernization Act is considered to be an update to the Hate Crimes Act of 2000 by closing loopholes in the law. 

Hoylman-Sigal, Lee, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, and others announced the legislation together at a press conference in November following the release of data showing bias incidents shot up 124% in October, including three times as many anti-Jewish hate crimes as the same month in 2022. Anti-LGBTQ hate crimes also doubled from October 2022 to October 2023. New York City tracked 136 hateful incidents crimes through March 31 of this year, including 47 arrests. 

The law now expands the list of offenses that can be prosecuted as hate crimes to include gang assault, sexual abuse, false reporting of an incident, criminal possession of a weapon, and more. The legislative proposal drew wide support from notable leaders and groups, including Rev. Al Sharpton, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the Asian Bar Association, the Hispanic Federation, and Equality New York, according to City & State.

“As we witness an unprecedented rise in bias-motivated crimes against Jewish, Muslim, Asian American and LGBTQ people, it’s of the utmost importance that New York closes the dozens of loopholes in our hate crime statute to send an urgent message that hatred won’t be tolerated in our state,” Hoylman-Sigal said in a written statement. “I’m proud that after working with the governor, District Attorney Bragg, and Assemblymember Lee, we’ve included the bulk of our Hate Crimes Modernization Act in the New York State Budget.”

Hoylman added: “With this legislation, we will give prosecutors the necessary tools to take appropriate action against hate so we can better protect New Yorkers of differing backgrounds.”

Grace echoed Hoylman-Sigal’s comments and cited “a disturbing surge in hate crimes” as an important factor in driving the legislation. 

“Failing to address hate has a long-term corrosive effect on our communities that normalizes acts of hate and disregards victims’ experiences,” Lee said. “This legislation will hold perpetrators of hate accountable, empower minority communities in New York, and foster healing in our communities.”

Another out state lawmaker, Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell of Manhattan, said the Hate Crimes Modernization Act is “a declaration that New York stands against hate in all its forms.”

“By updating our hate crimes statute, we’re ensuring that every New Yorker, regardless of background, has the protection they deserve from bias-driven harm,” O’Donnell said. “This Act is a crucial step towards a more inclusive and secure New York for all.”

Melissa Sklarz, the political director of the statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality New York, said the polarized political environment has led to violence against people based on their race, religion, and LGBTQ identity. 

“Equality New York supports increased vigilance when homophobic and transphobic people target our children, our homes, our access to healthcare, and our basic right to exist, from drag story hour to our LGBTQ teachers in the classroom. All New Yorkers deserve equal protection from violence and the threat of violence,” Sklarz said.