Opinion: Hate has no home here, unless we let it

By ZANDRA RICE HAWKINS

Published: 07-01-2023 6:00 AM

Zandra Rice Hawkins is a Concord City Councilor, Ward 10, and executive director of Granite State Progress.

Concord has a problem, and we are not alone.

Just recently neo-Nazis came into our community to spread hate and fear. The known hate group NSC-131 targeted a drag queen story hour at Teatotaller, a local coffee shop, queer oasis, and community building center.

The NSC-131 domestic terrorists wanted to incite fear and attempted to do so by unfurling a “Defend White Communities” white supremacist banner, banging on the windows, leading racist chants, spewing antisemitic rhetoric at Jewish community members in attendance, and physically pushing a peacekeeper who had come down to support LGBTQ+ family-friendly programming. One of the most disturbing moments is caught on video, as the group of 18 to 20 masked white males threw up a Nazi salute while chanting “Sieg Heil.”

This all happened in downtown Concord, on a sunny Sunday morning. This is not the first time this has happened here, or elsewhere around our state.

The Southern Poverty Law Center cites six to 10 active hate groups most years, and the Anti-Defamation League reports a 383% increase, or 183 reported incidents, in hate activity in New Hampshire in the past year alone.

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At the same time, these hate activities are most often committed by a small group of individuals and are almost always countered by an outpouring of community support that instead lifts up and supports whoever is the latest target of that hate activity.

When similar hate groups Proud Boys and We the People came to target the same event and space last November, they were met with a parade of rainbows and a strong showing of support from community members and elected officials. The news story that day celebrated our diversity and our pride in Concord.

This spring, when some of those same hate groups targeted a beloved elementary art teacher, our community again showed up to send a message that everyone belongs here.

In towns across our state, community members are coming together to challenge and defeat book bans, policies that would exclude transgender students, and attacks on an honest, inclusive education. School board members who support LGBTQ+ and BIPOC students are overwhelmingly defeating those running on platforms to undermine protections and inclusion.

There is room for hope.

But we know that attacks on LGBTQ+, BIPOC, Jewish, and other community members will continue to happen. It will happen because our laws to curb hate and violence are not as strong as we need, and because certain political leaders continue to foster an environment that emboldens and encourages division and hate against our fellow neighbors for daring to exist, and to live full and authentic lives.

Hateful policies like the so-called parental rights bill that would have forcibly outed and endangered LGBTQ+ students (thankfully defeated) and the promotion of the “banned concepts law” that prevents students from having the freedom to learn about the mistakes of the past to build a better future for all of us are political rallying cries for the very same hate groups who then target these community members in the community, at their homes, and in their places of business.

We cannot condemn acts of hate but pass policies that dehumanize and intentionally censor the lives and experiences of those whose race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, ability, family structure, or national origin has caused them to be harmed by others already.

As both a Concord city councilor and a non-profit leader who monitors hate groups and supports communities in responding to hate activity, I know that when hate comes to town, we all need to work urgently to prevent it from happening again.

I believe our community has more work to do here.

I am concerned that we did not have a stronger plan in place to address hate activity, especially since this is not the first time hate groups have shown up here and to target this particular LGBTQ+ and friends community gathering space.

A key role of government is to ensure public safety, for all community members. Concord and other New Hampshire communities can strengthen it by having proactive plans around how to respond when hate groups disrupt our public spaces or target particular community members. A couple of these things include:

■Police departments trained and aware of how to identify hate activity, best practices for de-escalation, and making it a priority to gather the information necessary for holding these bad actors accountable.

■Collecting the names of those committing acts of hate (a gap both in Concord that weekend, and in similar recent situations in other New England towns.)

■Immediate and direct communication to state and local elected officials that hate activity has taken place in our community, followed by official statements and activities from those city and state leaders condemning hate activity.

■Proactive planning, with targeted community members and elected leaders, to determine how to best approach a situation of hate activity so that our communities can respond quickly, together, and have that plan in place before hate comes to town.

Many communities are grappling with these issues right now. But we all know that hate only grows when it goes unchallenged, so we must commit ourselves to making the changes here to ensure that when it does happen, our community can respond appropriately.

As a city councilor, non-profit leader, proud ally, parent, and community member, I’m committed to doing my part. This summer many of us are coming together to host a “Preventing and Understanding Hate-Based Activity” community forum, similar to ones many of us have hosted together in other parts of the state. It will include a briefing on the hate groups active in our region, what can be done to address hate activity, and how to move our community forward.

Together, we can create the strong, vibrant, and inclusive communities we all deserve.

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