Civility, respect at the Statehouse and beyond


Intimidation and anti-Semitism are never acceptable


As children growing up, one of the first lessons our parents teach us is to be respectful of others. As we grow older we learn another valuable lesson: While others may disagree on an issue you think important, you should once again be respectful regarding the opinion of others. This is civil discourse at its best.

Recently, respect for others and civility became a Rhode Island state issue. Not only did it make radio, television and statewide press, it received national media attention as well. Perhaps it is only fitting that the issue was brought on by legislation to curb gun violence.

Shortly after a news conference and a hearing on gun violence, state Sen. Joshua Miller was harassed by a member of the media. As everyone by now knows, Miller lost his cool and threw out an unnecessary expletive. Any use of foul language by an elected official is, of course, wrong. Community leaders, of any kind, should be held to a high standard and should not be given a free pass. Miller acknowledged his error in judgment and issued an apology through the media. Knowing Miller, I do not believe his apology was politically motivated.

Certainly things at the Statehouse can get unnerving, especially during heated hearings when people and groups discuss issues about which they feel passionately. But only through civil discourse can a government and its people thrive.

Rather than debating the merits of the issue at hand, and having discussions in a civilized manner, opponents are now frequently using well-organized and engineered methods to personally attack their adversaries. This is a moral problem as users of such tactics bring up the First Amendment that is used carte blanche and as a trump card.

Before, during and following this event, Miller, and others who share a different viewpoint, have been targets of bullying. Such bullying has included threats and upsetting phone calls. In Miller’s case, he has received numerous threats, emails and phone calls. He and his family have been subjected to anti-Semitic slurs and attacks on his business.

This method of intimidation, attacks the very fabric of civility. This is extremely unfortunate. Even the term “political correctness” is used by bullies to get their point across. Only through debate and negotiation can issues be properly settled and have long lasting positive effects.

With the pervasiveness of the electronic media, bullying and a lack of civility has grown significantly. The Internet is now the method of choice for a finely tuned attack on the opposition as Miller experienced firsthand. Not only can a bully attack a person verbally and physically, a bully can now magnify hate in a controlled, venomous way. A bully can, and often does, attack a person where they are vulnerable. A business can easily be discredited by telling people not to frequent the establishment or, worse, writing a negative comment on the website. And, a bully can attack an opponent’s social media network within moments as in this case with anti-Semitic attacks and more. Cyberbullying can, and often does spread like the ugly virus it is.

Anti-Semitic attacks and other hateful language have no place in any civilized society, especially ours. And it makes no difference if the subject is a concerned citizen, groups, schoolchildren, or an elected official.

Our parents and our teachers taught us well. Be respectful of others.

MARTY COOPER is the Community Relations Director for the Jewish Alliance.