Drown messages of hate with your words of support

Posted Sept. 25, 2012, at 1:20 p.m.

It doesn’t matter whether the person or people who sprayed swastikas and other graffiti symbols on two Bangor synagogues recently did it with the intention of alarming the Jewish community. Regardless of motivation, their actions inflicted fear and pain.

This is the time for Bangor and the surrounding area to counteract the ugly, hateful actions by showing strong support for the people who were targeted. Drown out the hateful speech with positive speech of your own.

As Congregation Beth Israel and Beth Abraham Synagogue respond to their own members, people of all faiths can write or call with their own words of affirmation. An attack on one religion is, at its heart, a threat to the freedom to practice any religion.

When people who are not Jewish speak out in support and say the crime does not reflect their values, they build healing connections on the back of hate. A unified voice will show that hate crimes do not, in any way, represent Bangor or Maine.

A few things should happen now. Bangor police will continue to investigate, and anyone with information about the Sept. 21 defacement should call them.

If you are a parent, teacher or school counselor, talk to young people about what discrimination and harassment means and how symbols and words inflict pain. Civil rights teams already work to educate schools about bias and bullying; students should be listening. Empathy can be learned. People must know they are responsible for the consequences of their behavior whether or not those consequences are intended.

In 2010, 41 hate-crime complaints were forwarded from law enforcement to the attorney general’s office. In 2011, there were 48, according to the office. Communities react to hate crimes in ways that are appropriate for them, but one response proved particularly effective.

In Bingham in 2010, a 10-year-old African American student discovered racial hate language, death threats and swastikas etched into the floor of the basketball court behind his school. Instead of ignoring the vandalism, the school district and community held a support rally.

More than 100 people attended in order to celebrate the boy, Durgin Sweet. They wrote positive words with chalk on the court, including: “It’s the differences that make us interesting.” Later, Sweet spoke at every classroom in the district to educate his classmates about acceptance.

After seeing the etchings, Sweet said he was sad, and then he became afraid. There were people out there who wanted to hurt, even kill, people who looked like him. But the outpouring of support, he said, let him know people were looking out for him and would protect him. He said the support made him understand that many people, in fact, are not racist. Seeing and hearing from community members was key.

With many people gathering together to send the same message, the small Somerset County community placed emphasis where it belongs: on the inherent worth of the people who were the subjects of hate.

Bangor can do the same. Let us add our voice to yours: The bias-based graffiti does not reflect the feelings of Bangor. We respect the Jewish faith.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/09/25/opinion/drown-messages-of-hate-with-your-words-of-support/ printed on July 30, 2014