Gerard Filitti
Gerard Filitti
Human Rights Attorney

Ignoring hate crimes marginalizes Jewish community

Credit: Teaneck Police Department
Credit: Teaneck Police Department

On September 13, Camwren Cole allegedly walked into a pediatrician’s office in Teaneck, New Jersey—a town with a sizeable Jewish population—and, with a hammer in his hand and blood dripping on his arm, confronted a woman and asked, “Are you Jewish?”

The woman, a Jewish mother, quickly locked herself and her daughter in the bathroom. Thankfully, Cole did not break down the door, and the mother and daughter were not physically harmed. Cole was arrested shortly thereafter.

Any person with even a minimal awareness of history and current events knows exactly what happened in that pediatrician’s office: a hate crime directed against members of the Jewish community. In New Jersey, hate crimes are addressed as “bias intimidation” offenses, N.J.S.A. 2C:16-1, that carry enhanced penalties.

New Jersey’s bias intimidation law goes beyond punishing criminals who intentionally or recklessly intimidate a victim based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, or religion. The law addresses circumstances in which a victim reasonably believes that she was targeted on the basis of one of these characteristics.

In plain English, when a Jewish woman feels intimidated enough to lock herself and her daughter in a bathroom because a man wielding a hammer asks if she’s Jewish, she is probably a victim of bias intimidation under New Jersey law.

In the words of the Jewish mother subjected to this ordeal, Cole “was looking for Jewish people, in the pediatrician office, in a heavily Jewish area. That seems like a hate crime to me.”

Remarkably, the media downplayed the bias intimidation aspect of this crime. The Patch failed to mention that Cole was apparently seeking out Jewish people. Searching for “Camwren Cole” on the websites of the largest newspapers in northern New Jersey fails to show any coverage at all. In fact, NBC is the only media outlet that reported all the relevant facts, both on video and in an article.

When it comes to reporting on this crime of Jew-hatred, the media silence is deafening. But far worse is the Teaneck Police Department’s failure to properly report the facts, let alone charge Cole with bias intimidation. How can Teaneck residents trust the police to protect them when it withholds crucial and highly relevant information about attacks motivated by religion or ethnicity?

When the media and the police downplay or outright ignore hate crimes, there is a significant breach of public trust in those institutions. The consequences for targeted minorities are far-reaching. The lack of outrage or public condemnation of crimes targeting the Jewish community serves to normalize antisemitism. But silence is more than just complicity; it perpetuates the cycle of violence and threatens the hard-won civil rights protections of the Jewish community.

If crimes against Jews—because they are Jews—are neither reported nor prosecuted, it strips away at the distinct religious and ethnic identity of the Jewish community and delegitimizes its minority status. It is unthinkable that in 2021, an attack against a Black or Asian person would fail to take into account the race-based motivation of that attack. But this is precisely what happened in Teaneck, where neither the media nor the police acknowledged the Jew-hatred at the root of the attack.

Downplaying or outright ignoring crimes that target the Jewish community skews the statistical recording of hate crimes. If crimes are not properly reported or prosecuted, it hides the true nature and number of attacks targeting Jews. These statistics are often used to allocate government resources and shape social policy priorities. Downplaying Jew-hatred thus has the effect of further marginalizing the Jewish community, and gives rise to a growing perception that while racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination are unacceptable, antisemitism has become the only tolerated form of bigotry.

If a hate crime in a New York City suburb with a sizeable Jewish population largely escapes notice (and prosecution), how many other hate crimes targeting Jews are occurring on any given day throughout the rest of the country—and are not being reported or prosecuted? As a society, we cannot hope to end this insidious form of bigotry unless it is adequately reported, and social and legal pressure are brought to bear to end Jew-hatred in our lifetime.

About the Author
Gerard Filitti is is a New York City-based human rights attorney. He serves as Senior Counsel at The Lawfare Project, a Jewish civil rights litigation fund and think tank. He previously worked as a litigator in private practice for over 15 years and has broad experience in commercial and complex litigation across a wide variety of practice areas, in both state and federal courts.
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