Elected officials and other community leaders can be important allies in the fight against hate. But some must overcome reluctance — and others, their own biases — before they're able to take a stand.
The fight against hate needs community leaders willing to take an active role. Mayors and police chiefs, college presidents and school principals, local clergy and corporate CEOs: Their support and leadership can help your community address the root causes of hate and help turn bias incidents into experiences from which your community can learn and heal.
When leaders step forward and act swiftly in the wake of a hate incident, victims feel supported, community members feel safe, and space for action and dialogue can grow.
Too often, the fear of negative publicity, a lack of partnerships with affected communities, and a failure to understand the root causes of hate and bias can prevent leaders from stepping up. Their silence creates a vacuum in which rumors spread, victims feel ignored and perpetrators find tacit acceptance.
Steps to Take
Here are steps for a healthy community:
• Form relationships with community leaders before a hate incident occurs. If your community group already has a relationship with the mayor, for example, you will be better positioned to ask her to make a public statement in the event of a hate crime.
• Educate community leaders about the causes and effects of hate. Sometimes, well-intentioned leaders don't understand that bias-motivated actions can have far-reaching effects across a community. Educate leaders about the impact of hate and the root causes of intolerance, so their response can match the incident.
• Demand a quick, serious police response. The vigorous investigation and prosecution of hate crimes attracts media attention to issues of tolerance and encourages the public to stand up against hate.
• Demand a strong public statement by political leaders. When elected officials issue proclamations against hate, it helps promote tolerance and can unify communities. Silence, on the other hand, can be interpreted as the acceptance of hate.
• Encourage leaders to name the problem. Local leaders sometimes try to minimize incidents fueled by hate or bias, not calling them hate crimes. As a result, victims and their communities can feel silenced, and national hate crimes statistics become inaccurate. "Only when we know the true level and nature of hate crime in the U.S. will we be able to allocate resources in an effective way to combat it," advises Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project.
• Lobby for action. To heal in the wake of a bias incident — and to grow into a more resilient community — requires more than official statements. It also takes hard work. Ask your community leaders to walk the talk. Ask for their public support and involvement in rallies, community meetings and long-term solutions that address the root causes of intolerance.
If you can't love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else. Can I get an Amen?