NYC hate crime probe underway after latest Pride flag burning at gay bar

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WABC-TV(NEW YORK) -- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo asked state authorities to open a hate crime investigation on Monday after an arsonist set fire to a rainbow flag outside of a Harlem gay bar.

Cuomo said he was "appalled" by the incident at Alibi Lounge, the only gay bar in the neighborhood around 139th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, and directed the state police's hate crimes task force to assist local authorities with the ongoing investigation.

"This act of hate is repugnant to our values of equality and inclusion, and we will not stand by and allow these cowardly acts to continue in New York," he said in a statement. "I am once again directing the State Police Hate Crimes Unit to assist the NYPD with its investigation and hold those responsible accountable to the fullest extent of the law."

"In New York we have zero tolerance for this despicable behavior," he added.

Alibi's owners posted images of the torched flag to Twitter early Monday morning, noting that it had been targeted by arsonists twice in five weeks.

"Evil has struck again! Someone set our new pride flag on fire," the owners tweeted. "There is no words to express what we're feeling."

The lounge was also targeted on May 31, just ahead of the city's Pride Month kickoff, when surveillance cameras caught a man lighting two rainbow flags on fire at the club. The suspect had not been caught as of Monday afternoon, but the New York City Police Department said the incidents are being investigated as a possible bias incidents. NYPD officials tweeted a grainy photo of a suspect on Monday evening who they said was wanted to anti-LGBTQ criminal mischief in connection to the case.

"About a month ago we had the first incident, we did put out some video that was recovered but honestly the video was far away. We believe there’s a good chance the individual resides somewhere in that community," NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea told reporters Monday. "We are out there canvassing as we speak and we are relying on the community here as well anyone with any info."

The incident comes as the city battles with an spike in hate crimes across the board, with anit-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ crimes jumping 90% and 20%, respectively, from a year ago as of June 2, the NYPD said.

On Monday, the department said it had recorded 220 reported hate crimes year-to-date, a 48% increase from the same period last year, as overall crime decreases. The total of reported hate crimes were listed at 184 on June 2, when the city released its most-recent monthly crime report.

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