Racism and ha­tred — it takes a vil­lage

The Enterprise-Bulletin (Collingwood) - - OPINION - — Post­media Network

To punch or not to punch? That is the ques­tion. Or, at least, it seems to be, in the whirlpool of on­line de­bate over how to con­front neo- Nazis and white su­prem­a­cists. Is it ex­cus­able to meet ideas premised upon vi­o­lence with fists and ba­tons?

In a civ­i­lized so­ci­ety, of course not. Vi­o­lence begets vi­o­lence, no mat­ter how the­o­ret­i­cally sat­is­fy­ing.

In an Ottawa court­room on Thurs­day, the other way of con­fronting and coun­ter­ing ex­trem­ism was on dis­play, in the thought­ful re­marks of On­tario Court Jus­tice Peter Grif­fiths in sen­tenc­ing a teen who went on a hate­ful van­dal­ism spree last year, scrawl­ing graf­fiti on Ottawa’s houses of wor­ship.

And, in the thought­ful re­sponses of those wronged. “The safest out­come for our com­mu­nity is that ( the young of­fender) al­ters his world views,” said An­drea Freed­man, the pres­i­dent of the Jewish Fed­er­a­tion of Ottawa, told re­porters. Quite so.

In a small way, what played out in the Ottawa court­house was a mi­cro­cosm of what’s hap­pen­ing else­where, from the far- right fever swamps of the in­ter­net, to the Tiki- torch bear­ing marchers in Vir­ginia, to the aw­ful racism against In­dige­nous peo­ple in Canada.

“This is not Char­lottesville,” Grif­fiths said. “This is an act by a sin­gle man.” That’s true in the most lit­eral sense. But it ig­nores, per­haps, the wider preva­lence of racism in Canada. Paint­ing Nazi slo­gans on a church building is not some­thing that hap­pens in iso­la­tion.

“It is still sig­nif­i­cant that we rec­og­nize that this so­ci­ety has el­e­ments of racism and ha­tred in it. It’s not just iso­lated, there is some­thing sys­temic and co­or­di­nated about it,” said Park­dale United Church’s Rev. An­thony Bai­ley af­ter the hear­ing.

And in this case, it didn’t hap­pen in iso­la­tion. The young man, who’s now 18 but was 17 at the time and can­not be named be­cause he was con­victed as a young of­fender, picked up his views on white- power web­sites. Just as it takes a com­mu­nity to re­ha­bil­i­tate some­one, it takes a com­mu­nity to drag some­one down into ha­tred.

Grif­fiths said he be­lieves the young man is on his way to re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, and he has since apol­o­gized for what he did. “I think you have made a lot of progress in the last six months,” Grif­fiths told him. “It’s im­por­tant, though, that we stay on that path now.”

This is the case not just for one trou­bled young man. It’s the case for so­ci­ety more gen­er­ally; con­fronting racism is an on­go­ing, col­lab­o­ra­tive process.

It’s not as flashy as a fist­fight, but that’s the best way to see real, mean­ing­ful change.

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