July 21, 2024
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Assemblyman Johnson Authors Legislation After Recent Uptick in Anti-Semitic Threats

The recent dramatic rise in threats to Jewish organizations across North America has had a familiar ominous feel for Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen).

The assemblyman told The Jewish Link that as he watched the numbers of bomb threats, synagogue and cemetery desecrations grow, it reminded him of the spate of bombings of black churches from years earlier.

A former officer with the Englewood Police Department and Bergen County Sheriff’s Office, Johnson did not want to sit idly by and see the numbers of threats increase.

Last Monday, Johnson introduced legislation targeted at strengthening the law against a person or persons who initiate false public alarms, which include bomb threats, by adding this crime to the list of crimes already covered by the state’s intimidation laws.

He calls it the Bias Intimidation Law. It would apply if a crime is purposely meant to victimize “a specific class of people.” His bill would add an additional charge that would be one degree higher than the actual crime of creating a false public alarm.

According to Johnson’s office, if an individual is charged with committing a fourth-degree false public alarm and its intended victim was of a protected class, the individual can also be charged with bias intimidation in the third degree.

“By strengthening the statute, we ensure the court’s ability to use the fullest extent of the law to punish perpetrators who threaten the safety of residents and burden law enforcement by creating false alarms,” he said.

A person is guilty of the crime of bias intimidation if he commits, attempts to commit, conspires with another to commit or threatens the immediate commission of an offense with the purpose to intimidate an individual or group of individuals and knowing that the conduct constituting the offense would cause an individual or group of individuals to be intimidated because of race, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin or ethnicity.

“As soon as I heard about the threats, I felt like something had to be done,” Johnson told The Link in an interview on March 17. “As a former police officer, I recognize nationally and globally these threats or potential threats are called in by people who want to be derisive and want to show that they don’t like a certain group of people. Well, this needs to be addressed. I have not forgotten what happened during the 1960s when we had hate crimes going on which involved the bombing of black churches and the burning of crosses. This is a response to what I learned from that time.”

Assemblyman Johnson said that he expects the bill to be assigned to a committee and discussed before going to the full assembly. The process, he said, could take 30-60 days, or perhaps reach into the summer.

“This legislation enhances the penalties,” he said. “You call your threat in or use text mail to threaten a group of people with a certain ethnicity with violence, it is a hate crime. My bill heightens the penalty.”

Johnson said he has spoken to leadership on both sides of the aisle, and has already been given indication of bipartisan support.

The bill stipulates that if a person is guilty of bias intimidation, he would face a fourth degree punishment of up to 18 months imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000 or both.

By Phil Jacobs

 

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