Letter: Words have consequences

Posted

To the Editor:

The identities of the vandals who spray painted symbols of hate and violence around Bennington last month are legally protected, as they are minors ("Fourth incident of racist graffiti occurred last week," March 29). But we don't need to know their names to know that their actions are a warning sign: dangerous ideologies are taking hold among young people. All of us— schools, parents, civic groups, law enforcement — should take these incidents as seriously as if the graffiti had been a call for jihad.

"White power," like the Nazi swastika, is synonymous with violence. Right-wing extremists killed at least 50 people in the U.S. last year. The Pittsburgh white supremacist who murdered eleven Jews at prayer reportedly had been radicalized by right-wing radio and internet sites. Parkland mass murderer Nikolas Cruz spewed rabid right wing hate rhetoric on Instagram, where he had openly announced his intention to kill people. To paraphrase a public service message from years ago: Do you know where your children are on the internet? To ignore warning signs is dangerous negligence.

The FBI reports that hate crimes in K-12 schools increased by a shocking 25% in 2017 (coinciding with Trump's first year in office, unsurprisingly). Nationwide, the FBI reported a 37% rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes alone in 2017. This year, just in February, 34 states reported school incidents targeting Jews, people of color, LGBTQ, Muslims, immigrants, and the disabled. That range of targets clearly echoes the scale of Nazi atrocities.

Swastikas and other white supremacy symbols now appear with alarming frequency in our culture, including in our local area. If there were ever a teachable moment for U.S. schools, it's now.

The ethnic studies bill signed into law last week is a good start for Vermont. Conscientious curricula covering the history of slavery, civil rights and the Holocaust, for starters, should be a mandate. Local school districts and parents need to be aware of the dangerous messages children receive outside the classroom, especially from peers and online. It's becoming ever more important to recognize early signs of radicalization.

Spray-painting "white power" and swastikas in public is not an act of free speech, and cannot be dismissed as an innocuous prank. Our community has a responsibility to keep talking about what led to this, and how to prevent it from happening again. It didn't happen in a vacuum.

Robin Vaughan Kolderie,

Hoosick, New York

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