By Jano Tantongco
Local legislators, educators and religious leaders gathered at the Tri Community and Youth Agency to denounce hate incidents and call upon renewed awareness to promote peace and unity on Nov. 23.
Suffolk Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) was joined by his colleagues from across the aisle in condemning “acts of hatred.”
“I want to give us this opportunity to come together to speak to our anxieties, our fears, our concerns, that have been spurred by acts of, predominantly, ignorance,” Spencer said.
He cited an incident at Northport High School where three students reported multiple swastikas drawn in the school’s theater storage room. Police confirmed the incident and speculated it occurred sometime between Nov. 16-Nov. 18.
Spencer added that he’s received multiple personal reports from friends and colleagues about other incidents of “ethnic bullying.” He also looked toward New York City, and said there has been 31.5-percent spike in hate crimes this year compared to 2015.
“We are concerned rabbis. We are concerned school administrators We are concerned members of the NAACP, the Hispanic Latin quarter, doctors, ministers, lawmakers, republicans and democrats,” Spencer said. “The bottom line is that no matter who or what the target is, these acts are never acceptable.”
Spencer also called for a stronger push for educating youth, since they may be less informed on events like the Holocaust and the civil rights era.
Huntington Councilwoman Susan Berland added to his statements and implored schools to open themselves up to educational workshops and programming on the history of hateful movements.
“There are incidents of hate that cross all the borders of people in our town,” Berland said. “That’s why we’re all here together, to make sure that we stand together against this and are unified.”
Her colleague, Councilwoman Tracey Edwards, hoped the volatile climate would be an opportunity to generate positivity and show everyone “how great this town is.” She quoted John F. Kennedy from his 1963 commencement address at American University.
“...We can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future,” Kennedy had said.
Spencer also highlighted the work of kids at the Tri-CYA, who made signs calling on harmony and unity.
“One thing I love about children is that they can have conflict in the morning, and they’re playing together in the afternoon,” Spencer said.
Elwood School District Superintendent Kenneth Bossert attended and lauded legislators’ and community leaders’ efforts, but emphasized one point.
“I’m hearing calls for ‘tolerance.’ That’s not a word I use. The word I use is ‘acceptance,’ ” Bossert said. “‘Tolerance’ implies that we’re going to tolerate someone who is somehow less than we are. ‘Acceptance’ implies -- to me -- respect, community and love for one another.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has set up a statewide, toll-free hotline for those who have experienced bias-motivated threats, harassment or discrimination at 888-392-3644. It’s available 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday.