New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday ordered state police to launch a full investigation after a Jewish cemetery in Rochester was vandalized, the third such incident in the United States in less than two weeks.
Five headstones were found toppled Thursday morning at the Waad Hakolel Cemetery, also known as the Stone Road Cemetery, in the city in western New York.
“A number of headstones were recently vandalized and toppled over at Waad Hakolel Cemetery in Rochester,” the governor said in a statement. “Given the wave of bomb threats targeting Jewish community centers and disturbing vandalism at Jewish cemeteries nationwide, I am directing the State Police to immediately launch a full investigation into this matter.”
The president of the nonprofit managing the cemetery said he did not want to call the incident a hate crime or anti-Semitism.
“I don’t want to label it a hate crime. I don’t think there’s any proof of that. I don’t want to label it anti-Semitism. I don’t think there’s any proof of that,” said Michael Phillips, president of the Britton Road Association, according to The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
However, Cuomo said the attack appeared to be a part of a dramatic increase in hate crimes in the state recently.
“In recent weeks and months, the family of New York – people of all creeds, colors and backgrounds – have witnessed a dramatic increase in acts of hate and intolerance. The State Police Hate Crimes Task Force, in partnership with federal and local authorities, have launched aggressive investigations into reported hate crimes across the state,” Cuomo said.
“New York has zero tolerance for bias or discrimination of any kind, and we will always stand united in the face of anti-Semitism and divisiveness. It is repugnant to everything we believe as New Yorkers, and we will continue to do everything in our power to bring to justice those responsible for these cowardly attacks on the values we hold dear,” he said.
The last two weeks saw vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis, as well as two more waves of bomb threats called into Jewish community centers, schools and institutions across the country, representing the fourth and fifth waves of such harassment this year.
The incident came a day after the New York Police Department said anti-Semitic incidents are up 94 percent in New York City over this time last year.
The figure is part of a 55% increase overall in the number of hate crimes in the city as compared to the same time last year. Through the first two months of this year, 35 anti-Semitic incidents have been reported, compared to 18 through February 2016.
Overall, the total number of hate crime incidents in the city for the first two months of 2017 was 68, up from 44 last year, according to the NYPD. Among the incidents, six people were targeted for being black, three for being Muslim and eight for their sexual orientation.
“Hate crimes are up in this city. They’re driven primarily by anti-Semitic hate crimes,” Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said at a news conference Wednesday.