Governor calls for state-level domestic terrorism law after the attack, while Sen. Schumer pushes for more security funding
ALBANY — State and federal leaders are calling for tougher laws and additional security funding after a machete attack Saturday left five Hasidic Jews seriously injured during a Hanukkah party at a rabbi’s home in the Rockland County hamlet of Monsey.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer outlined a proposal Monday afternoon to boost a federal grant program meant to increase security at places of worship, schools and other nonprofits, calling the Monsey attack part of a “cascade of violence and intolerance” that warrants a “much stronger federal response.”
On the state level, Gov. Andrew Cuomo continued his push for a new state law that would treat hate crimes that result in mass casualties the same as terrorism — punishable by life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Cuomo, a Democrat, said a run of attacks in places of worship in recent years — including those in Monsey, the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and the West Freeway Church of Christ in Texas — are part of a “scourge of hate in this country.”
“We look at these situations as if they’re isolated episodes,” Cuomo said Monday on CNN’s New Day. “They are not. They are dots and you connect the dots and you see the pattern.”
Schumer and Cuomo’s efforts Monday came the same day prosecutors charged Grafton Thomas, 37, with federal hate crimes after police say he entered a rabbi’s home next to a synagogue and seriously injured five people.
Police found the Orange County resident with a blood-stained machete and knife in his car at the time of his arrest Saturday night. They also found references to Nazi culture and Adolf Hitler in a journal at his home and web searches for “German Jewish Temples” on his phone, according to the federal criminal complaint.
Thomas, of Greenwood Lake, had previously been arraigned in the town of Ramapo on five counts of second-degree attempted intentional murder and one count of second-degree burglary for the attack.
He remains held on $5 million bail in Rockland County Jail.
Schumer, a New York Democrat, said he will push to quadruple the size of the National Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which provides federal grants to nonprofits like places of worship and schools that could be at risk of a terror attack and are looking to boost security.
The program just got $90 million in the recently approved federal budget, up from $60 million the previous two fiscal years.
“These dollars prevent tragedies and save lives, so while it is good news that as part of the federal budget deal we were able to secure an increase in these funds, we need to do it again because the state of the crisis demands it,” Schumer said in a statement.
In New York City, a spate of apparent anti-Semitic attacks in the tri-state area — including Monsey and a shooting earlier in the month in a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, New Jersey — led the NYPD to increase patrols in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Borough Park, Midwood, Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Williamsburg, all home to a heavy Jewish presence.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration also launched a series of “neighborhood safety coalitions” in those neighborhoods, which will be tasked with addressing issues that help drive hate crimes.
“We as New Yorkers have the ability to stop the hatred,” de Blasio said Sunday. “You have the ability to stop the violence. We have done it before and we will do it again.”
Cuomo first unveiled a proposal for a tougher hate crime law in New York last August, when a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, left 22 mostly Latino victims dead.
The Hate Crimes Domestic Terrorism Act, as he originally proposed it, would apply when someone commits an act of mass violence against a group of people based on their race, age, gender, religion, sexual orientation or a number of other attributes.
It would kick in if the perpetrator kills at least one person and attempts to kill at least two more, according to Cuomo’s office.
Under his original proposal, the law would not have applied to Saturday’s attack in Monsey. None of the victims in the attack died, though one was left with a broken skull and was in critical condition at at Westchester Medical Center as of Sunday.
But Cuomo is expected to push for the new law when lawmakers return to the state Capitol in January for their annual session, and it’s unclear if he will broaden the scope of his proposal to include a situation similar to the Monsey attack.
“I want this state to be the first state to have a domestic terrorism law to express how ignorant this is, how intolerant it is and how criminal it is,” he said Sunday. “And I’ll be proposing that law for this state.”