There was a moment of silence at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where four years ago a white supremacist killed nine African Americans.
On Wednesday, presidential hopeful Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) stood in the same church. He did not mention President Donald Trump by name, but he condemned the weaponizing of hate.
“White supremacy allows political leaders to promise to ‘build the wall’ while not building hospitals, schools, or infrastructure critical for the success of all Americans,” said Booker. “It talks about the invasion of immigrants while allowing the deadly opioids to invade our communities, kill our children, lower the life expectancy of Americans, and white men in particular.”
A clerical error and a background check that took longer than three days enabled the Charleston shooter to buy the gun. Booker said it was time to close that waiting-period loophole, ban assault weapons used in other mass shootings and require federal licenses for guns.
“It is common-sense policy and one that we know, from the evidence and the data, will actually save lives. We’ve got to go further. We must require that the Department of Justice, Homeland Security and the FBI conduct assessments of the domestic terrorism threats that are posed by white supremacists, to take this more seriously, to act on the threat,” he said.
Booker said apathy and indifference contribute to the violence, lack of action and hate, now and decades ago, in America.
Civil rights activist Dwania Kyles braved the hateful speech, stares and segregation when she was 5 years old. She was one of 13 children to desegregate Memphis public schools in 1961. Today, Kyles battled racism by telling the story and struggle of the Memphis 13 at the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department with students from Englewood High School and the private Frisch School.
So did T.M. Garret, a former neo-Nazi turned human rights activist, filmmaker and collaborator with the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
“First, I got disengaged from the groups itself. It was just a lot of pressure; I didn’t want to go to prison and that is something you’d probably end up in prison, either that or dead. I didn’t want to do that, so I left those groups. But in my head, I was still a racist. And that changed when I received compassion from somebody I hated before. That was my landlord. He was a Turkish Muslim. And he just showed me that compassion when I thought I didn’t deserve it. That was very important to me. That had to do with respect and dignity that we often don’t see nowadays. But still everybody needs to learn that these things are important,” Garret said.
Last fall, Anthony Cureton was the president of the Bergen County NAACP, then voters elected him sheriff. He organized a Combat Hate program and invited the NAACP, the Urban League and the Wiesenthal Center.
“We live in a time when people are not listening to each other, they’re not engaging with each other, they’re staying within their own bubbles and we need to have these shared experiences so that we can learn the lessons from our past, from our history,” said Melissa Weiss, director of national campus outreach at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Critics have argued Cureton’s predecessor, Michael Saudino, should have embraced the anti-hate message after a recording captured Saudino spouting racist and homophobic remarks about two Murphy administration officials and African Americans, forcing his resignation last September.
Cureton says combating hate goes well beyond the county.
“If you look throughout the country and look internationally, we’ve even had situations where people are attacking each other based on their race, color, skin and religion. So we believe kids coming together under these types of circumstances gives an opportunity to really open up the dialogue. And we talk about hate and bigotry. Never there’s a dialogue until something happens, so we look at it as being proactive to having that discussion,” he said.