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Ripples of Hope in the Fight Against Hate

People on a sidewalk near flowers
People pay their respects at a memorial for the victims of a white supremacist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 16, 2017. © Samuel Corum/Anadolu/Getty

Hate crimes are on the rise, and too many individuals fear they will become the next victim of violence simply because of who they are. Our fellow U.S. citizens are looking to the president to lead and reassure us that intolerance has no place in our society.

But it took President Trump 48 hours to condemn the white supremacists who took to Charlottesville’s streets over the weekend. Then, on Tuesday, the president sought to diminish the role of white supremacist marchers by reiterating that “many sides” were at fault. By repeating this totally off-base and offensive view, Trump once again revealed his hostility towards race relations in our country.

Right now, concerned citizens deeply anxious about what they are seeing are wondering if their community might be the next target of a hate-fueled protest. With little inspiration coming from the White House, neighbors must look to neighbors, and communities must join together to combat hate. 

Despite the president’s lack of leadership, we are beginning to see some ripples of hope elsewhere. Chief executive officers of major corporations quit the president’s business advisory group in protest. Lawmakers from both parties criticized the president’s unwillingness to call out hate.

Even President Trump’s attorney general used forceful language in condemning hate and indicated a willingness to prosecute the driver who slammed into a group of protesters on Sunday. For Attorney General Sessions, who as a U.S. senator opposed hate crimes laws, this marked a significant turning point—one that recognizes the real problems our communities face in experiencing hate crimes.

Community leaders across the country are also standing up and taking action. Communities Against Hate, a historic coalition of diverse national organizations and neighborhood groups from across different communities, is working to share stories of hate incidents and provide resources. As a proud member of Communities Against Hate, the Stop Hate Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law has the privilege of supporting local community organizations and individuals combating hate in their communities.

The Stop Hate Project seeks to connect people targeted for hate incidents and hate crimes with legal information and counsel. The project provides information advocates can use to protect protesters’ rights in counter-hate demonstrations. It connects groups and individuals grappling with hate with social services supports, and it conducts legal research and training that local organizations can use to advocate for marginalized communities.

These efforts are made possible by leveraging our national pro bono network to make sure leaders across the country have the tools they need to protect and advance civil rights in their communities. Through our resource and reporting line, +1-844-9-NO-HATE; our website, www.8449nohate.org; or partnerships with local legal and social services organizations to learn directly from communities targeted for discrimination and violence, the Lawyers’ Committee seeks to ensure that those on the front lines in the fight against hate have access to the legal information and resources they need.

This is a teachable moment. Hate is not a new phenomenon, but it does have a new platform.

Marchers in Charlottesville talked about fulfilling the president’s promises. Those promises include enacting a “Muslim ban” targeting people on the basis of their religion, attempting to dehumanize transgender Americans and deny them from serving in the military, and continuing to repeat baseless claims of widespread voter fraud in service of efforts to deprive communities of color of the right to vote.

President Trump is pushing these efforts while seeking the counsel of a White House staff which includes individuals with ties to white nationalists, and while engaging in efforts to delegitimize and curtail the coverage of his administration by a free and independent press. These actions do not send a message of unity. Instead, they only seek to divide.  

Our country is stronger when we share messages of inclusion, and when people of all backgrounds are welcome in their own communities and treated with respect and dignity. For generations, our country has grown stronger as we have become a more inclusive society with laws and ideals that support the equal opportunities for all Americans. While our nation has made great strides to becoming more equal and just, Charlottesville reminds us that we still have a long way to go.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is a grantee of the Open Society Foundations.

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