Speak Out Against Hate
It was one of those serendipitous quirks that brought two faith holidays together in December 2022, as Hanukkah and Christmas overlapped. The yards were full of bright, colorful decorations—both Jewish and Christian. Then the harsh reality of hate imposed its ugly face on this serene setting. Allan and Leslie Slan, members of the Seaside Jewish Community, discovered their morning paper was strewn across their front yard. But what stood out was that the Metro section of the paper was folded open to the obituaries, and a Star of David printed on the page laid prominently beside a Hanukkah decoration.
To say this was unsettling to Allan and Leslie and their family is an understatement. It was as if some hateful person wished them dead. In the aftermath, the police and the Anti-Defamation League were contacted. The Slans were pleasantly surprised to find that their Christian neighbors now displayed the same Hanukkah decorations in their yard, as a sign of solidarity.
Fast forward to 2024 and you will find an active, committed, and passionate group called SOAH. These people are prepared to Speak Out Against Hate. What started as a collaboration between the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice and Seaside Social Justice has now expanded across the community. Their call to speak out extends to elected officials and those who hold positions of power or influence in our communities. They have been asked to sign a pledge to end their silence in the face of hate.
The pledge reads, “There is no place for hate in Sussex County or the State of Delaware. Therefore, I pledge to speak out against hate publicly and to support legislation that is designed to hold individuals and other entities who express hate accountable for acts defined as a hate crime.”
In addition, in SOAH’s Mission Statement we read, “SOAH seeks to engage in this effort [against hate] with all people of good faith: community leaders, businesses, elected officials, clergy, law enforcement personnel, young and old, regardless of color, creed, sexual orientation, national origin or religion.”
Kathy Jennings, Delaware Attorney General, was a panelist who spoke at a recent SOAH forum in Lewes. This issue is one that Jennings believes her office can affect positively. She shared how Attorneys General from across the country went on “field trips” into various cities to learn firsthand about past incidents that reflected hate crimes against persons and communities. These included a trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to learn about the Black Wall Street massacre; a trip to Birmingham, Alabama, to visit the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four girls were killed in a KKK bombing; and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, founded by Bryan Stevenson. These are but a few of the many journeys made by this group of Attorneys General.
Hate crime legislation in Delaware has helped address this problem, according to Jennings. The Delaware legislature strengthened the hate crime statute in 2022. It is now a requirement that law enforcement agencies report hate crimes. However, they depend on the public to report such crimes to them. No longer are actors of hate able to use a “fear defense” in their justification of committing such crimes. That is, they cannot justify their actions by claiming that they were afraid of the victim for being Black, Jewish, gay, or any other protected class.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are seven identified (and tracked) hate groups in Delaware. Locally, one such group is based in Lewes, with another in nearby Georgetown. Several operate throughout the state. Hopefully, these folks will not organize any disturbing incidents in our communities.
The Delaware Department of Justice recently released data noting a total of 28 hate crimes in Delaware during 2023. Of these, 20 were in New Castle County, two were in Kent County, and six were in Sussex County. Categorizing them by who was targeted, 16 were listed as anti-Black incidents, nine were antisemitic, two were anti-Hispanic, and one was in a general “anti-ethnic” category.
Silence in the face of hate is complicity. When any form of hate crime occurs, silence is unacceptable. Pastor Martin Niemöller wrote his famous poem, “First They Came,” in response to the rise of the Nazi regime. It cautions us that when we do not speak out for others who are oppressed, we eventually become the oppressed. Who will be left to speak for us?
SOAH is gaining momentum in fulfilling its mission. Several mayors in Sussex County have signed the pledge and want to do more. John Collier, Mayor of Milton, wrote a strong note of support. In his PS, he quoted Virgil: “The noblest motive is the public good.”
As the Slans look forward to 2024, they anticipate a growing community of like-minded people ready to make our world much better. May the candles of Hanukkah burn brightly, not only for eight days, but all year long. ▼
David Garrett, a CAMP Rehoboth Board member, is a straight advocate for equality and inclusion. He is also the proud father of an adult trans daughter. Email David Garrett at email@example.com.