Now the shock has settled, although the dust has not. Nor will it. Whether Trump’s election accelerates a slow erosion of America’s democracy and freedoms or galvanizes the rebirth of a newly determined citizen’s movement for civil rights is truly up to us. Our future depends on what we choose to do today, tomorrow, and the day after that.
If you missed it, here is Part #1 of our Action Plan to save America.
Action Two: Fight Back for Freedom and Against Hate
The past two weeks have seen a surge in hate attacks across the U.S. against Muslims, Blacks, Latinos, women, Jews, and LBTQ people, with more than 700 incidents reported since the election. We must draw a line in the sand to protect ourselves and communities, without being drawn into the same virulence, violence, and disrespect propagated by the perpetrators. We cannot vanquish hatred and violence with angry protests alone. Street demonstrations are mobilizing, but neglect our most powerful tools to pursue accountability and demand justice.
Our strongest defense against hate attacks lies in the institutions and public servants charged with safeguarding our safety and our freedoms – the courts and the cops – as well as in the conscience of an informed public. “When they go low, we go high”.
This does not mean we stand idly by. Far from it. We attack. Law and public opinion is a sword as well as a shield.
First, let’s sue these alt-right spigots of venom and anti-human aggression. I mean it. Plaintiff’s attorneys of the world, unite. Yesterday, white students in Louisiana put a noose around a black students’ neck and yanked. Last week, black freshman at UPenn were threatened with lynching. Sure sounds like intentional infliction of emotional distress to me. And perhaps negligence on the part of the institutions that have allowed these attacks to occur. Torts. Damages. Compensation for the victims paid from the pockets of the perpetrators.
There is strong precedent for instigators of hate crimes being held liable for millions in civil damages. In Berhanu v. Metzger the notorious San Diego skinhead Tom Metzger, founder of the hate group White Aryan Resistance (WAR), sent a recruiter to organize a Portland skinhead gang. After being trained in WAR's methods, the gang killed an Ethiopian student named Mulugeta Seraw. The family of the victim sued and won, with a jury ordering Metzger to pay $12.5 million in damages. In 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review Metzger's appeal. The case bankrupted WAR.
If the government won’t act, we will.
Second, a good number of hate attacks likely rise to the level of a criminal offense. Every time a hate incident occurs in our communities, all of us should be calling on our local District Attorney (state DA’s are not appointed by the federal government, so don’t serve at the president’s whim) to prosecute vigorously, like DA Seth Williams has already promised to do in Philly. Who is your DA? Go find out, and put the number in your phone. Many of these attacks are occurring in “blue states” – more than 80 in California since the election, and almost 50 in New York. DAs, it’s time to step up to the plate. Enough prosecutions across enough cities will send a strong signal that these crimes will not be tolerated.
Third, we can all do more to support the organizations on the frontlines fighting against hate. Volunteer. Give money. If there’s no existing group nearby, see if you can start a local affiliate. The Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, “is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy, the SPLC works toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality.” The Anti-Defamation League “fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all”. Count me in.
Fourth, be a vocal ally. When someone in your community is threatened or harassed, stand in public solidarity like this amazing community in upstate N.Y.. After Tenzin Dorjee, an immigrant citizen from Tibet, was victimized following Trump’s election, the vast non-racist silent majority of his little town of Plattsburgh rallied behind him.
And fifth, if you see something, say something. If you’re a witness or a victim, document it. Videotape. Photograph. Create an irrefutable record of the offense. A record that can stand up in court, and withstand the skepticism of those intent on denying that hate attacks are occurring. Share it – on social media (hashtag #ReportHate), and with traditional reporters looking for good stories. Report it to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is tracking hate incidents and hate groups across America. Call the cops, and the DA, and give them your videos, your photos, and your testimony. Now we all must bear witness.
Happy Thanksgiving, friends. On this day of gratitude I give thanks that I am in this struggle with so many good people, with good values, fighting together for what’s right.
Eight more steps in our Action Plan to Save America coming soon.