New York Could Make Graffiti a “Hate Crime”

New York Governor Kathy Hochul has voiced her support for a bill that would allow district attorneys to prosecute 31 additional offenses as hate crimes, including graffiti. The governor cited a 90% increase in reports of the felony charge between 2020 and 2022 and a “disturbing rise in hate crimes against Jewish and Muslim New Yorkers” since October 7, the day of the Hamas attack that was immediately followed by Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza.

Hochul pointed to a recent incident in Scarsdale in Upstate New York as justification for making graffiti, specifically, an eligible criminal act: Late last month, the words “genocide supporter” were spray painted on two businesses in the small town. 

The hate crime designation, attained by proving that a person acted with bias toward someone’s religious ideology, sexual orientation, or other factor of identity, elevates an offense to a felony. Hochul’s recent move has drawn concern from New York’s political left, who say that adding punitive measures will fail to address underlying socioeconomic issues.

New York Civil Liberties Union Senior Policy Counsel Justin Harrison spoke to this point, telling Hyperallergic that longer sentences “are rarely the answer.”  

“I don’t think that works — it doesn’t act as a powerful deterrent to crime,” said Harrison. A number of studies have supported this assertion.

The policy advisor also pointed to the potential speech-stifling implications of the bill, calling the governor’s decision “unfortunate,” especially given the “expressive elements in graffiti.”

“With hate crimes, there’s always a concern about disparate and sort of disproportionate enforcement,” said Harrison, noting that the government could harness the new legislation to target individuals who express opinions it disagrees with. “That element is perhaps heightened when you look at something like graffiti, because it is going to be enforced against somebody who tries to convey their views.”

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