Hochul signs Kaplan-sponsored legislation to ban hate symbols on display in public property

Robert Pelaez
A Confederate flag was on display at the Levittown Fire Department Station 3. (Photo courtesy of Anna Kaplan)

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation proposed by state Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills) on Tuesday that prohibits symbols of hate from being displayed on public property and equipment funded by taxpayers in New York.

The legislation, introduced by Kaplan in February, came after Confederate flags were displayed at the Levittown Fire Department Station 3 and on a firetruck during a parade in Suffolk County. The law, which immediately took effect on Tuesday, also prohibits the sale of symbols of hate on public property aside from educational or historical purposes.

“Symbols of hate have no use other than to spread ignorance and incite violence,” Hochul said in a statement. “As New Yorkers, we must remain united and actively fight to eradicate these attitudes, and this legislation bolsters those efforts. There is no reason for a symbol of hate to ever be on display, let alone by a police or fire department charged with protecting their community.”

Aside from Confederate flags, other symbols of hate outlined in the law include those of white supremacy and neo-Nazi ideology. In June, Kaplan received hate mail featuring an antisemitic reference in response to one of her mailers with information on the coronavirus vaccine.

The sender also wrote “109 soon 110,” a phrase the Anti-Defamation League said is used by white supremacists referring to the number of countries that have expelled Jews, implying the United States would be the 110th to do so. On Tuesday, Kaplan said now more than ever it is vital to eradicate symbols of hate on public property and taxpayer-funded equipment.

“With hate on the rise around the world and in our own community, it’s more urgent than ever that we take action to eradicate it wherever we find it,” Kaplan said. “You would think it was common sense that taxpayer-owned property couldn’t be used as a platform for hate, but shockingly there was no law on the books saying so – until now.”

The North Shore is no stranger to having hate speech and symbols being displayed on public and private properties.

In April, two swastikas were spray-painted onto exterior walls at John Philip Sousa Elementary School in Port Washington. District Superintendent Michael Hynes said the district would work with the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center in Glen Head to educate students on hate symbols.

District officials said they were working with the Nassau County Police Department and the district attorney’s office’s Hate Crime Units to find the perpetrator. Efforts to reach officials on the status of the investigation were unavailing.

In October 2020, swastika graffiti was sprayed on the Port Washington Police Athletic League’s clubhouse.  Officials said vandals allegedly broke into the building, stole a can of red spray paint, and sprayed 12 swastikas on its walls, equipment, and throughout its offices.

The incident, officials said, was being investigated as a hate crime by the Port Washington Police District. Efforts to reach law enforcement for an update on that investigation were unavailing.

In October 2019, a pair of swastikas were found on the grounds of the Nassau County Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center. One was spray-painted in red on a tree and another on a rock, accompanied by the name “Tommy.” Efforts to reach law enforcement officials on the status of the investigation were unavailing.

“Public property belongs to all of us, and this measure is critical to ensure that our public property isn’t being used to promote hatred,” Kaplan said. “I’m grateful to Governor Kathy Hochul for signing this measure into law and for her leadership to ensure that hate has no place in our state.”

“With this law now signed, we aren’t only doing away with this deplorable behavior, but also ensuring that every New Yorker, no matter their background or identity, feels welcome in their community,” Hochul said.

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