Too often in the District of Columbia today we are seeing hate rear its ugly head. I am not sure if what is happening here and around the nation can all be laid at the feet of Donald Trump. There clearly is more to it.
In D.C. it was reported “hate crimes motivated by hatred of a religion increased last year, with a rise in the number of crimes targeting Jews and Muslims. Of the incidents spurred by hatred of a particular religion, anti-Semitism was again the leading cause, motivating about 55 percent of those episodes, followed by anti-Muslim sentiment, which spurred about 25 percent. The number of hate crimes targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people also went up last year.”
I have lived in the District for 40 years having moved here from New York City. It was evident to me then the District was more segregated than I had been used to in New York. I was born in Harlem and my grandparents owned a hardware/housewares store there. I taught school in Harlem and grew up in a home where diversity was valued. My parents who immigrated to the United States to escape the Nazis wanted me to understand different races, cultures and religions. We moved to Washington Heights when I was five but my parents had me travel to a non-denominational nursery school at the Riverside Church.
When I came to the District it seemed to be very segregated and communities came together less than they did in New York. It was all about east and west of the Anacostia River. I was smart enough to understand racism existed then and still does today and is unhealthy for everyone. We continue to have structural racism in the District and we must work every day to change that. We must fight it and speak out against it. We can never let racist comments go unchallenged and must stand up to hate.
As a Jew and a gay man I still benefit from what we understand to be ‘white privilege.’ Nevertheless, I would expect everyone to also speak out and fight anti-Semitism and homophobia whenever they occur. Today that seems not to be happening as often as it should in D.C.
The District now has a population of 700,000 and we have not abolished hate.
We must find a way to live together and respect each other if we are to become the great city we all want us to be. We need to provide a great education for all our children and job opportunities for all our residents. We need to fight for real equality and that includes economic equality.
So this recent incident of anti-Semitism takes us away from moving toward the better city we want for all. When Council member Trayon White first made his comments about ‘the Rothschilds controlling the weather’ I was offended but passed it off as a lack of education and was willing to see him educated about how what he said impacted Jewish people. I heard him make an apology and was willing to accept it. I was even willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when he gave $500 to Farrakhan’s Saviors Day, though not a pass that he gave it from his constituent service fund, that he may not have realized how anti-Semitic Farrakhan is.
But then I read comments from Jonetta Rose Barras, a well-known reporter and writer, make an excuse for White’s anti-Semitism and conflate the Jewish people with the policies of the State of Israel (something that’s happening all too often these days). Then Josh Lopez trying to lead what he called a ‘unity rally,’ not sure why he thought he is the person to do this and what impact he thought he could have, and allow Abdul Khadir Muhammad, a mid-Atlantic representative for Farrakhan to have his megaphone to spew his hateful anti-Semitism and not take back the megaphone and immediately speak out against it publicly. Why were the other speakers silent on this? Why did it take a reprimand from the mayor to get Lopez to apologize? Why has Trayon White yet to speak out and separate himself from the comments of Muhammad?
All of this is both frightening and a blot on the reputation of the District. Clearly we need to educate our children in every part of the city on why hate is wrong. We need to teach that racism, sexism, homophobia and anti-Semitism are wrong and destructive. The question is how we move forward from here. How do we move beyond the attacks on a Jewish member of the Council?
One way is for the Council of the District of Columbia to pass a sense of the Council resolution against anti-Semitism. They could include in that sense of the Council that we will also not accept racism, sexism and homophobia in our city. The mayor should ask the Council to do that and endorse the resolution once it is passed. It would also behoove Josh Lopez to resign from his public post on the Housing Authority as a way to demonstrate he has a real understanding of the situation he exacerbated even if his initial intent was to do some good. There are always repercussions for our actions.
Then in an effort to move beyond this I would hope some of our religious leaders across the District would join together and speak out on these issues. We must find a way to move on and a big part of that is the recognition we must educate our residents and especially our children that as our mayor has said, “Hate is wrong and won’t be tolerated in the District of Columbia.”
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.