A community discussion on action against hate

After every incident of hate speech, the typical response is to chalk it up to a few bad apples, condemn the nefarious individuals and move on. Yet, many within Westfield’s community, including the town’s Human Relations Advisory Committee (HRAC), recognizes the swastikas in bathrooms and homophobic slurs on the sidewalks of our schools as home-grown acts of hate speech and are not willing to chalk it up to bad apples. Instead of mild indifference, the HRAC urges members of the community to confront acts of hate with self-reflection.

The HRAC is a committee set up by Mayor Shelley Brindle in 2020, whose mission statement is to “serve as a resource and community partner to uproot, dismantle and eradicate hate, prejudice, racism and bias to foster an inclusive and supportive environment, raise awareness and build a community that appreciates our commonalities and celebrates our diversity.”

In light of recent acts of hate in the community, Alexis Jemal, the HRAC Chair, sat down with Hi’s Eye to speak about an event that the HRAC and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Westfield have co-organized.

 On Feb. 3 from 7-9 p.m. in the WHS auditorium, the HRAC will lead a community-wide discussion to “disrupt hate and work towards an inclusive Westfield.” Titled “A Community Discussion on Action against Hate,” the event features a distinguished panel of speakers, including Westfield Police Chief Christopher Battiloro, Dr. Pamela Brug of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Westfield, Superintendent of the Westfield School District Dr. Raymond González, Former President of the Metro N.J. Chapter of the American Jewish Committee Edward Israelow, Senior Pastor of The Presbyterian Church in Westfield Rev. Jeremy Jinkins, Westfield High School Social Studies and Humanities Teacher Kim Leegan and Westfield Public Schools Director of Counseling Maureen Mazzarese. 

Registration is preferred before the event (click HERE) , although walk-ins will be accepted. Attendees are required to be vaccinated and masked. There will be time for questions from the audience, and residents can submit questions in advance of the event when they register.   

When [acts of hate] like this happens, we treat them like a few bad apples, but as a community, we don’t recognize our role in allowing [these acts of hate] to happen,” Jemal said. “We say that this will not be tolerated. But obviously, it is tolerated…Hate is very comfortable here in Westfield.” 

According to Jemal, the community discussion will “address past harm, disrupt present harm and prevent future harm.” 

The main message that the HRAC wants the community to take note of is that “we are all accountable and we all have to work to make Westfield a safe and inclusive place to live.”