Effort afoot to revive dormant Unity Task Force in Bay Ridge

BAY RIDGE — With the rising number of hate crimes being reported throughout the city, a local pol and a parish pastor joined forces to host a timely and informative discussion on the issue.

In a world where hate crimes are becoming more prevalent, the forum offered a commonsense point of view about how to cope with the inevitability of different types of hate crimes occurring more randomly.

The forum was also held as a first step toward possibly reviving the Bay Ridge Unity Task Force, a group that was started in 2000 by the late community leader Larry Morrish and activist priest Rev. Khader El-Yateem. The goal was to encourage unity across different religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, and Rev. Khader Khalilia, pastor at Redeemer St. John’s Lutheran Church, hosted the forum. Khalilia is the nephew of El-Yateem.

Also attending the forum along with Malliotakis and Khalilia were clergy leaders from a variety of faiths.

The guest speaker was Deputy Inspector Mark Molinari, the commanding officer of the NYPD Hate Crime Task Force, who was joined by Capt. Timothy Hollywood, executive officer of the NYPD Hate Crime Task Force.

Molinari provided specific facts and figures relating to hate crimes and discussed how to recognize and report a hate crime, as well as how such crimes are classified and prosecuted under the law.

Molinari explained that a hate crime is when someone intentionally targets someone because of his or her race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation.

“We need to stay vigilant as a community because there has been an uptick in hate crimes throughout the city of New York,” Malliotakis told this paper.

“In recent years, we have seen the Muslim community, the Jewish community, the Greek Orthodox community, the Presbyterian community as well as the Catholic community all targeted in some fashion or another, whether it be vandalism or threats. It’s important that we all come together to denounce these occurrences and work to prevent any future incidences.”

Malliotakis also expressed her desire to help re-launch the Unity Task Force.

“Unfortunately Larry [Morrish] passed away and Father El-Yateem moved to Florida and so it hasn’t been very active lately. So I’m trying to work with the various religious leaders in the community to see if we can put something similar together. We’re planning on expanding from this initial meeting to include congregations, other elected officials, civic and community organizations, and try to work together to reduce and eventually eliminate the number of incidences of hate that we’re witnessing,” added Malliotakis.

Khalilia said that the first meeting at Redeemer Saint John’s was a grassroots to plan for the future. “It was eye-opening,” he told this paper. “We know that hate crime is on the rise in New York City and the purpose of this religious summit is for us to establish a task force among clergy, Christians, Jews and Muslims and be able to work together and walk shoulder to shoulder with our neighbors and speak out against any xenophobia,” he added.

Following the presentation, attendees were encouraged to ask questions and brainstormed collectively to try to pinpoint the cause of many of these types of crimes as well as what can be done as a community to discourage them.

Malliotakis was encouraged by what she called a positive first step forward. “And now we want to expand on it so I intend to reach out to my colleagues in government, and to clergy who in turn will reach out to their congregations to see if we can build upon this and make it a regular task force.”

Malliotakis continued, “I thought the Unity Task Force was a really good model that was productive,” she said. “When an incident occurred, we came together as a community, regardless of political affiliation and regardless of religious background and regardless of ethnicity; we just denounced it as a community.”

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