In the wake of multiple acts of terrorism against the Jewish community in New Jersey and neighboring New York, legislation to expand the definition of the crime of terrorism under State law received final legislative approval on Monday. It passed the Assembly 74-0, and the Senate 31-0.
Targeted acts of terror, particularly against members of the Jewish community, have shaken New Jersey and New York in recent weeks. In December, a police officer and three civilians lost their lives in a shooting at a kosher market in Jersey City, and five Jews were wounded in an attack at a Hanukkah celebration in Monsey, New York. On New Year’s Day, two women in Brooklyn attacked a Jewish man as he was standing on a street corner, striking him in the face and smashing his cell phone.
“Terroristic violence is on the rise across the country. In Charleston, Dylan Roof shot nine African American members of Emmanuel AME as they prayed. In Charlottesville, James Fields Jr. drove into a crowd of protestors, murdering an innocent bystander. In Pittsburgh, Robert Bowers entered the Tree of Life synagogue and massacred eleven worshippers. In Poway, John Earnest killed one, when he open fired within the Chabad synagogue during Passover. In El Paso, Patrick Crusius slaughtered twenty-two people shopping for school supplies in a Walmart. And right here in New Jersey, a heroic police officer and three innocent people tragically lost their lives in an attack on a kosher marketplace in Jersey City,” said Assemblyman Gary Schaer, one of the bill’s sponsors. “Each of these acts was done to sow fear within communities, and to inspire more acts of violence. There is only one word for all of these acts: terrorism.”
The legislation (A-3087) would broaden the definition of terrorism under State law to include crimes committed to influence or incite an act of terror against a person or group of people based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender or creed. The bill is sponsored by Schaer (D-Bergen, Passaic), Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union).
“The tragedy we witnessed in Jersey City last month is sadly just one example of hate-induced terror plaguing our state and our nation,” said Vainieri Huttle. “There were 569 bias incidents reported in New Jersey in 2018, marking the third straight year that the number of incidents went up. We also know that there are 18 active hate groups in New Jersey as of 2018. Should they commit an act of terror, we need to be prepared to hold individuals accountable and bring them to justice. By redefining the crime of terrorism under the law, a person who commits a hateful act will receive a much harsher punishment.”
“We cannot ignore the facts; crimes committed towards a certain group because of how they look or their way of life is indeed an act of terror,” said Quijano. “Our State laws should reflect this so that we may prosecute terrorists to the fullest extent of the law. Let’s be perfectly clear. This kind of hatred and bigotry cannot, and will not, be tolerated in New Jersey.”
Under the current law, a person is guilty of terrorism if or she commits, attempts, conspires or threatens to commit certain crimes to:
- Promote an act of terror
- Terrorize five or more people
- Influence the policy or conduct of government, or
- Cause, by an act of terror, the impairment of interruption of public communications, public transportation, public or private buildings, common carriers, public utilities or other public services.
The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk.