HAVERSTRAW, Rockland County (WABC) -- Lawmakers are universally condemning anti-Semitic comments made at a public meeting in Rockland County, and authorities are exploring if any charges could be filed.
Resident Nick Colella was addressing the Town of Haverstraw Planning Board Wednesday when he made several derogatory statements about the Jewish community while referring to the growing Orthodox population and the religious custom of walking -- often in groups -- to Shabbat services.
"A certain sect of people tends to walk in the street, and nobody is wearing any reflective gear," he said. "So if I run one of them over, and of course I'm going to back over them again."
The board immediately told the man his time was up, but he continued shouting over their objections.
"Hearing a member of the public speak at a meeting hosted a local governmental body and describe how he would 'back over them again' if he ran over Jews walking in the street is a dangerous and despicable manifestation of antisemitism that must be condemned in the strongest terms possible," Town of Ramapo Supervisor Michael Specht said. "These abhorrent comments are a heinous and hateful attack on the Jewish community and a painful reminder that antisemitism is regrettably alive and well."
The meeting agenda centered on a controversial application for a zoning variance to build a yeshiva, reflective of the changing demographics of the town.
Rockland County Executive Ed Day also spoke out regarding the incident.
"This is beyond disgusting and not what the people of Rockland are all about," he said. "We can disagree, argue and quarrel, but the line is crossed (in this instance). There is an intelligent and respectful way to make your point, and this is clearly not that. This discourse is utterly ignorant and hateful and on behalf of the vast majority of the good people of Rockland. I condemn it in no uncertain terms."
The Rockland County District Attorney Office is aware of the incident and is working with the Haverstraw Police Department and the New York State Attorney General Office to make a determination of any potential charges.
"Let me be very clear, anti-Semitism or any sort of racism has no place in Rockland," District Attorney Tom Walsh said. "As a retired Judge in the Village of Haverstraw, I know just how diverse and welcoming the community is."
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Governor Kathy Hochul said she has directed the New York State Police Hate Crimes Task Force and New York State Division of Human Rights to assist local leaders responding to this incident.
"Hateful, anti-Semitic speech will not be tolerated," she said. "We will do everything we can to protect our communities from this abuse."
The Jewish Federation & Foundation of Rockland County issued the following statement:
"A Haverstraw resident commenting on local zoning issues made hateful and threatening remarks targeting the local Jewish community. The Jewish Federation & Foundation of Rockland County appreciates the immediate and unequivocal condemnation of these inflammatory, hateful and violent remarks by the participating Haverstraw board members at last night's meeting. As Governor Kathy Hochul stated this afternoon, New Yorkers are better than this. The residents of Rockland are better than this too. Many thanks to local, county and state representatives from across Rockland who have joined the Jewish community saying that hate has no place here. The Jewish Federation and Foundation of Rockland County works to ensure our county remains safe, tolerant and welcoming for all of its residents."
While law enforcement determines whether a crime was committed, Colella has been be banned from future other public meetings -- unless it is to offer an apology.
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