PROVIDENCE – About 80 people from diverse communities across Rhode Island attended a statewide summit on May 16 that focused on hate: what it looks like in our state, what’s contributing to the rise of hate, what it means to marginalized communities, and how diverse groups can work together to make everyone feel safer.
“Call to Action. A State-Wide Summit Addressing Hate” was held at Rhode Island College. Organized by representatives from faith-based communities, law enforcement and groups representing marginalized communities, the daylong conference was funded by Washington Trust, the Rhode Island Foundation and United Way of Rhode Island, with additional funding from Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island. The Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island provided organizational support.
The summit was a year in the making and featured personal stories of those affected by hate, as well as discussions on how to move forward. The summit addressed all types of hate, including antisemitism and hate aimed at the LGBTQ+ community, Blacks, Muslims and Asians.
Zeneta B. Everhart and Pardeep Kaleka offered a powerful keynote discussion on their experiences. Everhart is the director of Diversity & Inclusion for New York State Sen. Tim Kennedy. She testified before Congress on the need for stricter gun laws, leading to the Safer Communities Act 2022, the first piece of gun legislation to become law in more than 30 years. She is also the mother of Zaire Goodman, who was seriously injured in the Tops Supermarket mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, on May 14, 2022.
Where is the humanity, Everhart asked.
“Our differences should make us curious,” she said. “But you don’t need an AR-15 to air out these issues. It’s OK to disagree. It doesn’t have to be solved with guns. We have to get back to seeing the humanity in each other.”
Kaleka has his own tale of tragedy; his father was killed at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2012. Kaleka has spent more than 25 years in law enforcement, education, social services, counseling and assisting hate-crime survivors. He is the co-director of Not in Our Town, an organization specializing in community hate-prevention, and a de-radicalization specialist with Parents4Peace, assisting families and individuals to move away from hateful ideologies.
Kaleka spoke about the people he counsels, and called himself an optimist. He emphasized that, “We have to listen [to others]. We have to listen to pain without being personally offended.”
The speakers agreed that building relationships and understanding is key to combating hate.
“We need to get to a place where we see each other as humans,” Everhart said.
Not in Our Town, www.niot.org, has made a series of films about community responses to tragedy. Kaleka showed part of “Repairing the World: Stories from The Tree of Life,” which chronicles Pittsburgh’s response to the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in 2018, and the community’s efforts to understand it so it never happens again.
Two panels offered different views of hate in Rhode Island.
The first, including Kaleka, Peggy Shakur of the ADL New England and Brian Pires of the U.S. Department of Justice, and moderated by Jim Vincent, board member of the BLM RI PAC, tackled the rise of white nationalism, domestic terrorism and hate groups in Rhode Island and New England.
The second offered local voices discussing the current state of anti-hate work and bias incidents in Rhode Island. The panelists included Channavy Chhay of the Center for Southeast Asians in Providence, Rabbi Sarah Mack of Temple Beth-El in Providence, Andy Taubman of Youth Pride RI, and Harrison Tuttle of BLM RI PAC, and was moderated by Keith Hoffman of the Civil & Community Rights Unit in the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office.
Key points from the panel discussions:
Hate is on the rise. The FBI’s latest statistics on hate crimes in the U.S. put the number at more than 8,000, in 2022 the highest ever. Still, most of the panelists agreed that hate crimes in the U.S. are underreported, sometimes because victims are afraid to report.
Shakur pointed out that a hateful act doesn’t always qualify as a crime, leading to “a lot of disillusionment when people report to law enforcement and there is no crime.”
Increased white-extremist activity. Shakur calls these groups “equal opportunity haters.” Their activity is up 96% in Rhode Island in the last year. She said these groups are targeting New England.
Counter social isolation. Online groups give isolated people a sense of belonging, growing hate and terrorism. These online communities tell vulnerable people that their biases are right.
Education is critical. We need to teach critical thinking and active listening. Kaleka said we need to educate people on how to spot good, credible information.
Relationship building is a big factor in success.
Report hate through all the available methods. But keep in mind that it can be difficult for children to report incidents of hate because of the possibility of bullying. As Tuttle said, “The public needs to know where to go [that’s safe].”
Hate crimes can be reported to local police departments, the RI Attorney General’s office, the RI Commission on Prejudice and Bias, the RI Victim of Crime Helpline, the ADL and the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island as well as some community organizations.
The members of the local panels also made several suggestions of what people can do to reduce hate. Tuttle said that reaching out after a hate crime will help us come together as a different community. Chhay said we need to show respect and be kind to each other. Taubman said we need to offer resources to those who need them. Rabbi Mack said we should celebrate our culture and differences.
“That’s the flipside of hate,” she said. “It can happen everywhere.”
FRAN OSTENDORF (email@example.com) is the editor of Jewish Rhode Island.