One year ago, we watched in horror as white supremacists descended upon the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, carrying torches, marching proudly, and chanting phrases such as "Jews will not replace us." Mainstream media and social media exploded with coverage of the blatant racism and shocking anti-Semitism. Events turned tragic on the morning of Aug. 12 as counterprotesters turned out, confrontations erupted, demonstrators were injured, and a young woman died when a car drove into a crowd.
The display of hate and bias that surfaced so publicly in Charlottesville represents a rising trend around the country that cannot be ignored.
In May, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found that hate crimes reported to police in 2017 rose 12.5 percent from the previous year in America's 10 largest cities (including Philadelphia).
The 10-city total of 1,038 hate crimes in 2017 also marked the first time in more than a decade that the combined number of official reports exceeded 1,000.
At the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (PCHR), we have tracked 146 separate hate and bias incidents since November 2016, of which 74 are confirmed acts of hate. From graffiti targeting immigrants and Jews, to physical attacks against members of the Muslim and LGBTQ communities, to racial slurs written and yelled on the street, every section of our city has been affected.
The challenge to all of us is to know when and how to speak out against alleged hate crimes and bias incidents. Acts of hate affect many more people than the intended victim or group. They send fear and intimidation, re-traumatizing people who have experienced similar acts of hate in the past. Even a small incident can erupt into a larger event.
As a Jew, a woman, and a member of the LGBTQ community, I cannot be silent. As a white person, I believe I have a particular duty to speak out against racism and injustices in all of their forms. We need to work harder to educate people about the history of our country and how we historically mistreated people of color, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and women. We need to build stronger communities by bringing people together and creating opportunities.
The PCHR has created guidelines to combat hate and bias that include contacting the police and/or reporting an incident. We have a 24/7 hotline number you should save in your phone: 215-686-2856. Call if you see any acts of hate or bias.
We also urge people to get involved, contact your local officials, attend town halls and events, and engage with civil rights efforts though social media. Commit to confronting hate at home, school, and in the workplace. Identify and work to eliminate your own biases, and conquer your fears. Be a role model. The way you live your life and the examples you set have the power to influence children, family, friends, and neighbors.
I often teach people how we can overcome hate and bigotry as individuals. One model I promote is to work on SELF:
One year later we must remember Charlottesville as a mandatory learning opportunity. We must be prepared to respond quickly and decisively against hate and bias. Each hate incident reminds us of our responsibility both to speak out and to come together as a community. Standing up against hate and bias is not optional. It falls on all of us to take immediate action and protect one another.