People of conscience must stand up against hate

Asian Americans are not alone when it comes to hate crimes, Hate crimes against Black Americans are also up. The Jewish community reported a record number of hate crimes. In Chicago, gay men were the most targeted.

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Signs that call for an end of hate crimes towards Asian American and Pacific islanders during a rally in tandem with other organizations across the US in honor of AAPI victims at the Chinatown Chicago Public Library Branch in Chinatown, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022.

Signs that call for an end to hate crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islanders are shown at a rally in honor of AAPI victims at the Chinatown Chicago Public Library Branch on Jan. 30.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

GuiYing Ma was assaulted as she swept up the sidewalk in front of her Queens home, her head beaten with a rock so that she ended up in a coma for weeks. Christina Yuna Lee was fatally stabbed more than 40 times by a stalker who followed her to her apartment in Chinatown. Michelle Alyssa Go was pushed to her death at a Times Square subway station. In Atlanta last March, eight people were killed at mass shootings at three Asian spas.

Across the country, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism reported that anti-Asian hate crime increased by 339% last year. Asian Americans were not alone — hate crimes against Black Americans, the most targeted group, also rose. The Jewish community reported a record number of hate crimes. In Chicago, gay men were the most targeted.

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Fear of the other is not new in the U.S. Chinese immigrants brought in to help build the railroads in the 1800s suffered brutal discrimination. Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps during World War II, their property confiscated, in one of the most shameful episodes in American history. Even after the slaves were freed, Black Americans faced beatings and lynchings, murders and mob violence, particularly as whites organized to impose segregation across the South. Jews have suffered discrimination marked by the burning of synagogues, despite the horrors of the Holocaust. The mistreatment of Latino immigrants today was foreshadowed by the mistreatment of the Irish, the Italians and the Poles when they immigrated in large numbers in the early 1900s.

Progress in civil rights is always met with a fierce reaction. Now, with America growing more diverse, once more the reaction has begun to build. At such times, it is vital that America’s leaders — political, cultural, religious, academic, corporate — stand up and speak up against the violence and for equal justice under the law.

Too often, however, politicians find it in their self-interest to fan the flames of division rather than douse them. Donald Trump launched his first presidential campaign railing against Latino immigrants, slurring them as rapists and criminals. Too many Republicans scrambled to follow his lead. Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 election has prompted Republicans to pass laws and gerrymander districts to suppress minority voting power. In dozens of states, Republican governors and legislators are enacting laws and regulations to suppress the teaching of America’s history of racial and sexual violence. Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, cynically postures against gays in the name of family values. Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley goes from celebrating the Jan. 6 insurrectionists to slurring Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, outrageously suggesting that she’s soft on pedophiles, thus echoing one of the more unhinged of the extreme right-wing conspiracy theories.

This is cynical politics at its worst. At a time when inequality has reached record extremes, when corruption and big money undermine our democracy, it isn’t surprising that politicians who serve the privileged seek to distract and divide working and poor people, rousing fears about strangers, immigrants, gays, or whatever minority seems vulnerable to attack.

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Not all seek to divide. Congress passed the Asian American hate crimes bill with bipartisan support. Federal anti-lynching legislation finally was enacted into law. Part of the reason for the reaction is that America witnessed the largest multi-racial demonstrations ever in the Black Lives Matter marches last year against police brutality against Blacks, and the largest turnout of minority voters in the 2020 elections.

No one should be misled. We are once more in a time of struggle about what kind of country we will be. The outcome is not preordained. America has seen eras of progress and eras of brutal reaction. The choice, in the end, is ours.

Now is the time when people of conscience must stand up. America’s diversity is its great strength. Its history is one of slow progress toward more equal justice, despite civil wars, brutal reversions, and entrenched resistance.

Once more we enter a time that will be a test of our character.

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