Analysis & Comment

Opinion | How to Protect New York’s Jews

I spent the past two years with the Guardian Group crisscrossing Europe, from London to Kiev, assessing security threats to Jewish communities in Europe, which are facing a rise in anti-Semitism. Never did I ever expect my hometown to experience a similar spasm of anti-Semitic attacks, many of them violent. Yet, with 10 reported anti-Semitic incidents over the past week, plus the horrific attack in Jersey City in early December, we must confront this particular hate forcefully. The question is: What can be done to protect the Jews of greater New York?

An effective multipronged response needs to involve the Jewish community, in all of its diversity, and the greater public, as well as city and state governments.

As the former director of intelligence analysis at the New York City Police Department, I can tell you that deterrence is crucial. Would-be assailants need to be dissuaded from carrying out attacks. In recent days, the mayor’s office has committed to deploying extra law enforcement resources to the most endangered communities, many in Brooklyn. This is a good start, but the commitment must go further. Increased police patrols, the establishment of fixed posts and even the use of undercover officers, dressed as observant Jews, are tactics that should be deployed and sustained for the foreseeable future. Removing these resources after only a short time has proved to be ineffective; incidents return as patrols leave.

And what about when assailants are caught?

Data that I’ve reviewed show approximately a third of the recent anti-Semitic attacks in New York are committed by people with histories of psychiatric problems. The arrest of such a person in a violent attack (hate crime or otherwise) might be considered evidence that he or she has a mental illness, which is likely to result in serious harm to self or others. Rather than being released immediately, those arrested should be formally evaluated to determine whether other intervention is necessary. To be sure, this doesn’t excuse crimes of heinous anti-Semitism but helps further combat a condition under which antisocial behavior like anti-Semitism thrives.

The Rev. Wendy Paige, the pastor for the man charged in the Monsey attack, noted that he had battled with mental illness for two decades and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. “There hasn’t been anyone who has given a real solution to deal with a grown man who is dealing with schizophrenia, other than ‘Go home and call us if something happens.’” Failing to treat individuals with documented mental health issues is not an acceptable solution.

New York City and the state must work together to treat mental health issues as the serious threat that they are. Both should immediately fund initiatives that enable expedited enrollment in treatment programs so that the all of law enforcement and district attorneys can readily access appropriate services in place of, or in tandem with, the criminal justice system, rather than turning these people in need back to the streets.

The data also show that almost two-thirds of the attacks in New York City are committed by juveniles who are local residents. This is deeply disturbing. After suspects are arrested, family court judges have too few options. City Hall must develop an age-appropriate restorative justice option for those adjudicated as juvenile offenders for their participation in what could be a hate crime. The program should include both supervised community service and an educational element that would focus on teaching an offender about the societal costs of hate crimes. In addition, comprehensive anti-bias education programming needs to be instituted in city schools, beyond Mayor Bill de Blasio’s current plan.

And when appropriate, hate-crime assailants should face significant jail time in order to send a clear message that hate crimes will not go unpunished.

Lastly, there is self-defense. The need for this is unfortunate — in part, it’s a failure of the American promise of freedom and toleration that a minority group must learn to provide for its own defense; but we must confront the world as it is. The Jewish community must be proactive in protecting itself. We’re responding by creating a community security program, a group which I lead — with a $4 million plan that includes six security professionals to help secure local Jewish institutions in the New York region. This effort is directed by the UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Community Relations Council.

Jewish institutions must continue to make themselves more resilient by improving access control and by making use of some of the recent New York State grant funding allocated for schools, community centers and camps. State funding should include more robust protection for houses of worship.

The menace of anti-Semitism won’t be defeated overnight. But with a determined focus on deterrence, resolving mental-health treatment deficiencies, creating juvenile rehabilitation programs, defending houses of worship and other Jewish institutions, we can begin to beat back the persistent violence that is afflicting New York’s Jewish community.

Mitchell D. Silber, a former N.Y.P.D. official, is the incoming executive director of the Community Security Initiative, a joint program of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and UJA-Federation of New York.

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