What’s the right response to a hate crime? If one happens in your community, what should you do?
Recently I noticed three acts of prejudice-fueled vandalism, one based on race, a second on gender identity, and the third on religion. This vandalism all occurred in various parts of the United States, and these hate crimes had something else in common, too—each of them backfired. In two instances, neighbors rallied to remove the tell-tale signs before the homeowners returned, and in the other, they joined together in an art project to turn hate-filled graffiti into love-filled art.
While an African-American family from Tenino, Washington, enjoyed their camping trip, someone covered their home in racist graffiti. Community members decided to clean it up before the family returned in order to spare the family, especially the children, from witnessing such hate-filled sentiments. The local Youth Football and Cheer club posted on Facebook that they, “…want the racist cowards to know that we WILL NOT stand for this in our small town.” They called for volunteers to help clean up the mess, and about 50 people turned up, including the town’s mayor. Their timing was impeccable. The family returned just as the work was completed. A local firefighter summed up everyone’s feelings, saying, “It’s too cruddy of a world to have this kind of stuff happen in your own community and not do something about it. Main thing is we wanted to make sure the family didn’t see this. Nobody [needs] this kind of junk in their life.”
On the East Coast, a lesbian couple from Massachusetts were out of town when vandals pelted their home with eggs and stole a Rainbow Pride Flag that they put up following the massacre of dozens of people at an Orlando gay nightclub. One of the women, Lauri Ryding, expressed her appreciation of the approximately 40 neighbors whose immediate response was to show their support and solidarity in the face of bigotry by purchasing Rainbow Pride Flags and flying them from their own homes. “One person’s act of fear and maliciousness created such a powerful statement of love,” she said. “We are very blessed, very fortunate.”
Esther Cohen-Eskin, a Jewish woman in Haverford, Pennsylvania, walked out of her home to find a swastika painted on her trash can. A friend suggested she take an “ugly message and make something beautiful out of it.” Cohen-Eskin turned the swastika into a flower and passed flyers out to her neighbors explaining what had happened and inviting them to join her. Cohen-Eskin immediately started receiving messages from supporters. “Images of trash cans covered top to bottom with peace symbols, ‘No Place for Hate’ slogans, butterflies, flower gardens, expressions of love, and more poured in from near and far, including the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany.” “Cohen-Eskin said she isn’t focusing on trying to find out the perpetrator’s identity,” one journalist reported. “’I don’t want to give them any power. I’d rather give the power to the people who are rising up and making it positive.’”
All these neighbors showed through their actions what Abdu’l-Baha saw as the promise of the American community when he visited this country in 1912. He remarked:
Praise be to God! You are living in a land of freedom. You are blessed with men of learning, men who are well versed in the comparative study of religions. You realize the need of unity and know the great harm which comes from prejudice and superstition. I ask you, Is not fellowship and brotherhood preferable to enmity and hatred in society and community? The answer is self-evident. Love and fellowship are absolutely needful to win the good-pleasure of God which is the goal of all human attainment. We must be united. We must love each other. We must ever praise each other. We must bestow commendation upon all people, thus removing the discord and hatred which have caused alienation amongst men. Otherwise the conditions of the past will continue, praising ourselves and condemning others; religious wars will have no end and religious prejudice, the prime cause of this havoc and tribulation, will increase. This must be abandoned, and the way to do it is to investigate the reality which underlies all the religions. This underlying reality is the love of humanity. For God is one and humanity is one, and the only creed of the prophets is love and unity. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 410.
So if a hate crime happens where you live, no matter which city, state, island or territory, take Abdu’l-Baha’s suggestion and try some fellowship, brotherhood and love for humanity.