In 2015 I was appointed to the New York City Commission on Human Rights, largely because of my expertise in the discrimination so often faced by women, Latinos and people with disabilities. It was fortuitous timing for, as I’ve written about previously, that year complaints to the commission about disability-related discrimination topped those of every other category, including bias related to race and gender.
When I was appointed, I was honored and I knew it would be interesting, but I could not have imagined how important the Commission’s work would become in 2017.
As is true throughout the country, bias crimes have spiked in New York City since the November elections, which some people seem to feel legitimized such acts. City leaders and community members have responded swiftly and firmly to let the world know that New Yorkers will not allow our values to be undermined by hate.
As Mayor Bill de Blasio said the day after the election, “New York believes in liberty. We stand behind Lady Liberty with open arms to welcome immigrants and refugees. We always have and we always will. New York believes in tolerance. We long ago showed the world that live and let live is the best policy. We embrace civil rights and religious diversity. We always have and we always will.”
Still, we know that none of us, not ourselves, our ICS members, our family or friends are immune from the forces shaping the world around us. Many of us are members of targeted groups, and every one of us know people who may be targeted for their race, gender, ethnic or religious identity, disability, sexual orientation, or immigration status.
In this atmosphere, the Commission is working with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and other New York City agencies to get important information out into the community, and to address New Yorkers’ questions and concerns.
As both a Commissioner and as an advocate, I believe it is essential for every New Yorker to know several very important things:
- First, New York City has one of the strongest anti-discrimination laws in the country. Anyone who believes they are a victim of discrimination can file a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights, which will investigate and, if cause is found, take legal action. Information on how to file a complaint is here. A full description of the law and its protections is here.
- Second, the New York Police Department takes hate crimes seriously, and our criminal laws allow additional penalties to be imposed on anyone convicted of a crime where it is shown that the crime was motivated by bias.
- Equally important, New York City has a fierce commitment to protecting immigrant communities. With election results that have inspired fear and despair among many immigrants, the Mayor and the City Council have acted quickly to both reassure these New Yorkers and to inform them about the many kinds of help that are available, ranging from legal assistance to services such as child care, health and mental health care, and emergency food and shelter. You can read a related statement and also find information about services available to immigrants in New York City here.
- Finally, New York City does not enforce immigration laws. The police do not ask about the immigration status of people asking them for help. No New York City agency – not schools, hospitals, shelters – none of them collect immigration information. In fact, New York City has a longstanding official and strictly-enforced policy of prohibiting City employees from asking anyone about their immigration status unless it is necessary to help serve that person, in which case they must keep that information confidential.
The Commission on Human Rights and other city agencies are important resources for any New Yorker who has questions about protecting their rights. A great deal of information is available here. I’d also like to share this short video of the Mayor explaining how the City will stand together to protect the values we hold dear.
I’ve often talked about ICS as a little piece of land – a place to cultivate and protect the kind of care we want to create in the world. I see this not only in the care we strive to give our members every day, but in the way our staff support and care for each other. ICS is a microcosm of the diversity that makes New York City strong and great. I am proud to help lead ICS and to live in a city that stands up to hate, that embraces, rather than demonizing, the great, big beautiful range of humanity.