Dear Fellow Marylanders,
For many Americans and immigrants alike, the United States offers a promise of freedom, equality and prosperity regardless of race, background, religion or gender. While our founding fathers did not have the most complete definition of equality and freedom for all Americans, over the last 247 years, our nation and our laws have evolved to strengthen these freedoms and move us closer to the equality promised by our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
I have witnessed this evolution firsthand during my lifetime. As a child in the 1940s and 1950s, I attended Liberty School No. 64, a public elementary school in Baltimore City. It was part of a segregated public school system that, under law, denied every student in Baltimore the opportunity to learn in a classroom that represented the diversity of our community.
There were neighborhoods that my parents warned me to avoid for fear of safety, because I was Jewish. The local movie theater denied admissions to African Americans. Community swimming pools had signs that said, “No Jews, no Blacks allowed.” Even Baltimore’s amusement parks and sports clubs were segregated by race. It was systemic hate.
Through Congressional action, including the passage of bills like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and through landmark Supreme Court decisions, we have changed civil rights in America and made it possible for more people to have the opportunities of this country that otherwise would have been denied.
Though our laws have become more equitable and society increasingly more open and accepting, conflict and unrest have a way of uncovering the dark underbelly of racism and bigotry that are rooted in America.
As President Biden said recently, “hate never goes away, it only hides.”
In the last few years, global and domestic stressors – including a former president of the United States – have opened the door and allowed a more vocal group of Americans to appeal to their lesser selves, reverting back to a time we all should be desperate to leave behind. Sadly, more communities today, particularly immigrant communities, are experiencing spikes in the hate and bigotry of my childhood.
The latest data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation annual crime report (2022), released earlier this week, shows that the leading types of biases that result in hate incidents are anti-Black, anti-Jewish and anti- LGBTQ. While violent crime is down overall, antisemitic hate crimes rose 25 percent year to year. Antisemitism accounted for over half of all reported religion-based hate crimes. Anti-LGBTQ hate crimes rose 16 percent, and Muslim Americans and African Americans continue to be overrepresented among victims.
In the wake of the Hamas attack there was an almost 500% rise in anti-Jewish threats on Telegram, according to the Anti-Defamation League which plays an important role in documenting the rise of hate speech and hate crimes. Swastikas are popping up all over America – including Maryland – and antisemitic activity is on the rise across colleges throughout the country. Bomb threats to synagogues are increasing in frequency. Out of fear for their safety, Jewish and Muslim students are wondering if it is safe to wear clothing or jewelry that might identify their faith.
This last week, one of the most horrific, senseless acts of hate and violence in recent years occurred in the Chicago area. Six-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume, a Palestinian-American Muslim child, was stabbed to death and his mother, Hanaan Shahin, was stabbed 12 times by their landlord, because he was angry about the Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel. Wadea and Hannan were innocent victims and had nothing to do with the war between Israel and Hamas.
There is never any excuse to commit hate crimes. Hatred breeds more hatred and can never be tolerated. Together, we must stand up to hate and recognize that when any minority group is in jeopardy, we are all in jeopardy – whether it’s in China or Myanmar or Russia or Israel or here in the United States of America.
But we can’t just legislate prejudice and discrimination away. Real life is more complicated. We need all leaders – every American – to defend human rights, speak out in support of civil rights, and act out against all forms of hate and bigotry. I am proud that in May the Biden Administration released a comprehensive U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, which outlines not only a whole-of-government but a whole-of-society approach to combat antisemitism. I am pleased that so many officials in Maryland – such as Attorney General Anthony Brown, Governor Wes Moore, and U.S. Attorney Erek Barron – have taken a leadership role in combatting hate crimes in the state.
Countering hate also is about education and correcting disinformation. Ignorance of history – ignorance of current events – allows prejudice and hate to fester and explode.
For me, the struggle against hate has always been deeply personal. Seeing our country transition from segregation through civil rights and into our modern society, I’ve learned that progress does not come easily or quickly. We all must take a stand against hate whenever and wherever it occurs. We cannot allow it to be normalized. United against hate, we can coexist and create a safe place for everyone who calls America home.
Thank you. Please feel free to reply to this email with your thoughts on this issue or any other topic on your mind. I appreciate all the comments and feedback.