By Lisa Scott
Since 2015, Christians, Jews and Muslims have come together in dialogue as Abraham’s Table of Long Island, seeking understanding, solidarity and common purpose. Recently 100 people attended “If You See Something, Say Something … Confronting Hate on Long Island Today.”
Speakers shared personal stories of how hatred is on the rise, intensifying and escalating here on Long Island. League of Women Voters representatives shared a table with Catholic nuns and Protestant clergy, and we met many social justice group members as well as concerned individuals.
The Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center and the Turkish Cultural Center provided an Iftar dinner breaking the Muslim Ramadan fast for all attending. The speakers reflected this diversity, teaching us that hate knows no bounds and will continue to grow unless each of us takes responsibility and speaks out. Whether or not you identify with an organized religion, the words and experiences shared that evening should move each of us to connect, speak, witness, protest and advocate.
There were calls to action regarding rising hate against Jewish, Black, Latinx, Muslim, Asian and LGBTQ+ people in our communities. Eric Post, LI Director of the American Jewish Committee, noted that Jews are two percent of the American population yet (according to the Suffolk County Police) 61% of hate incidents overall were anti-Semitic and 93.5% of religious hate crimes were anti-Semitic in nature. He then introduced a young Jewish man who suffered a violent assault in Manhattan who spoke of the attack and subsequent trauma.
Tracey Edwards, Long Island Regional Director of the NAACP NYS Conference, said that Long Island has two problems. “Residents are reluctant to report hate crimes, and when they do the police departments and district attorneys make a predetermination of intent before they do a proper investigation and charge a hate crime.” Thus hate crime data is reported as down or not counted on Long Island while national data shows an increase across the country. “We cannot fix the problem if we don’t acknowledge that we have a problem.”
On a personal level, David Kilmnick of the LGBT Network of Long Island reported a decade of hate letters and threats to the police for investigation, but the FBI was kept unaware during those years. Jocelo Lucero, who has presented programs to thousands of Long Island students, spoke against hate crimes and for tolerance. He is the brother of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero who in 2008 was fatally stabbed in Patchogue after he and a friend were surrounded by seven teenagers who had gone out looking to attack Latinos; a bias crime that drew national attention to Suffolk County.
Also presenting were Dr. Isma Chaudhry of the Islamic Center of Long Island and Soh Young Lee-Segredo of the Asian Pacific American Council of Educators.
Hate is real and hate crimes are growing whether we hear about them or not, yet all of us are to some degree complicit in “tolerating” a climate of hate in our communities. Passivity and words and racist jokes have been seeds of violence and even genocide through the centuries. Social conditions give rise to hate, such as the need to scapegoat or blame “the other”— people who look or speak or worship or think or act different — for our social and personal troubles.
Economic downturns and inflation; COVID’s myriad effects on health, emotional well-being, and family cohesion; massive migrations of people fleeing violence all over the world; misinformation and magnification of perceived threats to long-held beliefs and values; a personal sense of danger due to increased crime and the prevalence of gun violence; falling status and insecurity leading to feelings of less “worthy’ people taking our place; all are contributing factors to the rise of hate in 2022. Silence is not an option.
Connect with a “stranger”; teach and live diversity, equity and inclusion in your families, schools, congregations, workplaces and communities; speak up when you hear hateful speech; report acts of hate to school officials or police; demand that government enact laws and policies to stop hate; support organizations that work against hate; participate in public vigils and rallies to protest hate and write letters to the editor that condemn acts of hate on Long Island.
Thanks to Richard Koubek, Chair of Abraham’s Table of LI, www.abrahamstableli.org, and to his Steering Committee and program presenters for guidance, inspiration, witness and work. Let’s all actively combat hate now — the next generation deserves no less.
Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county or call 631-862-6860.