What Do We Do In The Face Of Intolerance And Hate Crimes?

In the past week, the effects of intolerance and hate crimes against others has been blatantly visible in the news. The shooting of 11 people at a Jewish Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania shocked many around the world. The violence at the Tree of Life Synagogue was conducted by suspect Robert Bowers, who had largely anti-Semitic views and openly told law enforcement that he wanted to commit violence against Jewish people.

The attack on the synagogue came only a few days after a number of packages suspected to contain explosives were mailed to both the CNN Headquarters and to several high profile political and public figures. The Obamas, Democratic representative Maxine Walters, Hillary Clinton, George Soros, Robert De Niro, Cory Booker, John Brennan, Joe Biden, Tom Steyer and James Clapper all received suspicious packages at their residences or offices. One suspect, Cesar Sayoc, was arrested in connection to the packages.  The suspect’s social media posts and stickers in his home included strong criticisms against CNN and the Democratic Party, which leads the speculation that he likely targeted the mail recipients for their political affiliations.

The Synagogue attack and suspicious mail packages both indicate how intolerance towards the belief systems and views of others can create violent motives. Our current global climate proves wider society to be increasingly divisive, creating another era in which people are not free to worship, belong to a culture or express their views for fear of being violently retaliated against.  In Canada, hate crimes motivated by prejudice have increased significantly over the past few years. For example, in 2016 there was an estimated 1,409 hate crimes that were reported to police, while 2015 had seen 47 less cases reported.

Often, we are horrified when we read about historic acts of violence such as the Holocaust, Rwandan Genocide, Jim Crow era and many more. Looking to the past we are usually thankful for brave individuals who stood against violence and prejudice, and even go so far as to credit or show gratitude to our current, socially advanced world. While it is true that policies today permit the movement of people of different cultures, ethnic backgrounds and opinions, there is still much prejudice present in society.  The increase in hate related violent incidents and the events in the United States this week makes one feel as if the efforts and struggles made in the past by peace seekers are in fact being reversed.

These themes are not limited only to the west, but can be seen globally in cases such as the Rohingya Crisis, which are rooted in prejudice and lead to violence and mistreatment of specific groups. Many of these cases remain hidden and unresolved for a long period of time due to lack of awareness, western media coverage and public attention. This can result in large numbers of victims, the stealing and desecration of people’s rights, decreased access to justice and unfair treatment in society.

While it is distressing to hear of hate crimes continuing across the globe in 2018, we should still believe in the power of justice and of humanity. In the few days after the attack on the synagogue, conversations between people from all walks of life, religions and backgrounds have been flooded with empathy, well wishes for the victims’ families and the common call for justice and the end of hate against others. Dark moments like the synagogue shooting and the mailed explosives frighten us and lead us to doubt the future of humanity, but we should all remind ourselves that we have come so far in society and we can only continue to strive for inclusivity and peace.

We must not become complacent in our zeal for peace and harmony within all groups. Past freedom fighters worked hard to ensure that people of all creeds could have justice, in spite of lingering prejudices. We can only continue their cause with the most influential tools they have left us with; our voices. Although it may sometimes seem that their efforts are being reversed, it is because of their past passions for justice, peace and equality that we have the voices with which we are able to champion causes today such as the Me Too Movement, campaigns against police brutality and gender discrimination. In sum, it would be a disservice to the efforts made in the past and to ourselves if we are defeated and do not continue on against social prejudices.