December 6, 2016
On the weekend after Thanksgiving, a block in Lamar was hit by an attack of political vandalism. Nine houses and seven cars were defaced by spray-painted messages which included swastikas and slogans like “Trump Make Amerika White.” We don’t yet know who the vandals were or what motivated them. The police are looking into the matter, and we wish them every success in locating the perpetrators. What matters, and what has spurred this letter, is the question of what we as a community should do in response.
One might say, essentially, “nothing.” We can dismiss these actions as a reprehensible but isolated incident, and hopefully it will turn out to have been an isolated incident, never to be repeated. The problem with a non-response, however, is that it would ignore the experience of the victims. Imagine what it would be like if one morning you went out and found a vicious personal insult scrawled across your dwelling or your vehicle. Think how violated, and how isolated, you would feel. We as a town cannot help much with the feeling of violation. But we can help with the feeling of isolation.
One of the undersigned has a personal story which may be relevant. A number of years ago, one of his oldest friends experienced a similar sort of attack. Jon and Vicki and their four children were one of the only Jewish families in a small town in rural Maine. During the holiday season, they put a menorah – the nine-armed candelabra with which Jews celebrate Hanukkah – in their front window, and one night, someone threw a brick through that window. The perpetrator was never caught, and the family never knew whether the vandalism was anti-Semitic in nature or merely a random act of destructiveness. What matters, however, is what happened next.
That Sunday, virtually every pastor in the county spoke from the pulpit and denounced what had happened. People whom Jon and Vicki didn’t even know came up to them and told them how sorry they were. The family was stunned: they hadn’t known their community possessed such a reservoir of fellow-feeling. All sorts of people went out of their way to show that they felt bad about what had happened and were ashamed that it had happened in their town. And what they did had an effect. Instead of this event making that family feel worse about where they lived, it ended up making them feel better about it.
It would be nice – it would be healing – to see something like that happen here. We will never be able to entirely eliminate cruel and foolish behavior. But we can show the people on the receiving end of such behavior that we stand with them, rather than against them. We can show them they’re not alone. If someone slaps our neighbor, they slap us. If someone spits on our neighbor, they spit on us. If someone brings hate to our streets, we need to bring the only thing which can cancel it out: we need to bring love. That holds true regardless of anyone’s politics. We are not separate tribes. We are one town.
The undersigned would like to urge our pastors to speak out about what happened, as the pastors near Jon and Vicki did. We would urge the same on our political and community leaders. And we would further urge everyone in town: if you know someone who was affected by this incident, tell them – and if you can, show them – that you feel on their behalf. Don’t escalate the anger. Enhance the friendship. That is how you can help. That is how you can turn something ugly into something worthy of the place where we raise our children.
David S. Frankel
Filed Under: Letters to the Editor
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