Speaking Out Against Hate

June 17, 2009

From: The City of Madison Common Council
The City of Madison Equal Opportunities Commission
Seeking Tolerance and Justice Over Hate (STAJOH-the Dane County Hate Crimes Task Force)

To the greater Madison community:

We stand together in solidarity to speak out against a growing epidemic of hate speech and hate-motivated violence, and a recent growth of hate groups throughout the country. As Dr. King once said, "What affects one of us, affects all of us." We speak with one voice, pledging to stand up against the perpetrators of hate crimes and proponents of hate to the full extent allowable under the rule of law.

On June 10th, a lone gunman invaded the sacred space of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. The gunman murdered a security guard, Stephen T. Johns, while spreading resonant trauma to over two thousand museum visitors. Mr. Johns showed extraordinary bravery in preventing the assailant's entry into the museum; an action that likely saved countless other innocent lives. He leaves behind a wife and young son. We ask members of the greater Madison community to give generously to a fund which has been established and will be administered locally by the Madison Jewish Community Council, as a means of helping ensure his surviving family's future financial security. Contributions may be made payable to Madison Jewish Community Council, 6434 Enterprise Lane, Madison, WI 53719 marked clearly that the donation is for the family of Stephen T. Johns.

Mr. Johns' alleged killer has a long history of Holocaust denial, anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, and racist hate speech on the web and in other writings. When the record of this tragedy is reviewed many years from now, it is hoped that the perpetrator's name will be long forgotten, but that the name of security guard Stephen T. Johns will be long remembered.

This hate crime does not exist in isolation. It follows the murder two weeks ago, in Wichita, of Dr. George Tiller in his church by a gunman who could not see the moral contradiction inherent in the cold-blooded taking of another person's life in the perverse name of what the gunman seemingly considers preserving a life. The murder at the Holocaust Museum is the latest since January 1st involving "lone wolves" infected with anti-Semitic beliefs and other extremist sentiments including a plot by extremists to bomb two synagogues in Riverdale, New York; the shooting of American soldiers at a military recruiting center in Arkansas; the shooting deaths of two people and sexual assault on a third as part of a killing spree directed against Jews and non-whites in Brockton, Massachusetts; and the shooting deaths of three Pittsburgh police officers by a man with virulently racist and anti-Semitic beliefs. Many of the perpetrators do not belong to a specific extremist group or organization, but seem to be motivated to commit violence by their own radical ideologies which may be influenced by current events and conditions, including the economic crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the immigration debate, the gay marriage debate, and the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president.

Mr. Johns' murder happened at a time when the virulence of hate speech targeted at our nation's first African-American president is an increasing presence on the Internet and over the airwaves, and when members of ethnic and religious minorities are being wrongfully blamed for this country's ills at a time of severe economic downturn.

We are complicit if we greet such hate speech with silence. Some would use the precious American right to free speech as a shield to protect and justify words that misrepresent and divide. We pledge to vigorously and responsibly make use of our own First Amendment freedoms, aggressively countering the poison of hate speech with the antidote of more free speech that uplifts rather than denigrates our common humanity.
For anyone in our community who experiences physical harm or intimidation in the face of hate or a hate crime, we offer our community's passionate and unequivocal support. We recognize the humiliation and resonant trauma that might accompany certain hate crimes, and pledge to use our community's law enforcement resources and other institutions to ease the way for those directly and indirectly affected by these crimes in every way possible.

Most importantly, as community leaders, we pledge to speak out in the face of injustice, while holding high community values that encourage civility, understanding and compassion for All. We recognize that the forces of hatred and intolerance exist in every community - including our own. As those who follow us in the years to come, we will not be judged by whether or not hate-inspired speech and violence existed here, rather by how we worked together to respond and insure that the perpetrators knew of our commitment to "not in our town."

In coming together with this statement of solidarity and community values, we assert our common belief in the golden rule that is woven into virtually every major world religion and secular philosophy, "to do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

While we can never hope to fully eliminate the hate that is within our midst, we can hope to overwhelm it with the light of our own truth, and our dedicated and unwavering commitment to the common good and the ongoing quest for social justice for all.

Sincerely,

Members of the City of Madison Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC)
Members of the City Madison Common Council
Members of Seeking Tolerance and Justice Over Hate (STAJOH)-the Dane County Hate Crimes Task Force

Contact:
  • Lucia Nunez, Director, (608) 266-5916