Guest Columns

Ending Hatred in Yorktown Requires More Than Aspirational Statements

Opinion Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.

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By Melvyn R. Tanzman

As a group of community members gathered at the First Presbyterian Church in Yorktown to commemorate the lives lost in the white supremacist murders in Buffalo on May 22, little did we know that at the very same time racist and antisemitic graffiti was discovered under an overpass at the Croton Reservoir Bridge.

Supervisor Matt Slater issued a statement that “Hate Has No Home Here.” This statement, while expressing hope, does not accurately describe our current environment. Sadly, hate DOES have a foothold here in Yorktown and it has emerged from under rocks and the privacy of our homes into the public square at in-person meetings of our local political gatherings, school boards, and most shamefully, on social media.

At last week’s Town Board meeting, during public comments I challenged the Town Board to do more. Supervisor Slater responded that the town could do little to prevent an attack by somebody coming from outside our community, as was the case in Buffalo. He really did not address my point that hate crimes are a byproduct of local policies and inaction designed to maintain the status quo of a majority white community, which fears the growth of a town that is more diverse and reflective of our changing nation.

I believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant; thus, I offer the following documented incidents that have occurred in our hometown. These incidents are numerous in the past five years, and I would argue not aberrations.

  • In 2017, local politicians during a campaign sent campaign mailers that dehumanized immigrants and utilized stereotypical antisemitic imagery.
  • A local elected official in the recent past posted on their Facebook page, an image of the Confederate flag stating he had no problem with it. This image was removed after negative reactions.
  • In 2021, a community group dedicated to eradicating racism and other forms of systemic discrimination was characterized at public school board meetings, public events and on social media as Marxist, an ultra-left fringe group, anti-police, anti-American and as a hate group.
  • A social media video posted in 2021 included a local resident naming and defaming a black educator.
  • In 2021, local officials accused county officials of collaborating with the federal government in “sneaking in” undocumented immigrants through Westchester County Airport under cover of night.
  • In 2021, an organized effort in local school districts decried efforts to comply with state Education Department efforts to initiate a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative to counter hate, discrimination and bullying based on intolerance. Opponents’ claims of reverse discrimination and unfair targeting of white, straight students largely went unchallenged by school board leadership. In one district, these critics claimed to have caused the dismissal of a superintendent.
  • In 2021, a local community member was recorded making hateful statements at a political victory party.
  • The Feb. 10, 2022, Lakeland Board of Education meeting erupted into racist and anti-Semitic taunts including “This isn’t Harlem” and “How German of you.”
  • This year, there have been efforts to ban books in schools written by non-binary and African American authors with claims that they were “pornographic, violent, anti-American and anti-police.”
  • In 2022, local elected officials endorsed school board candidates publicly, who espoused “parent rights” positions.
  • And now, racist, anti-Semitic graffiti.

My intent in writing this letter is not to shame individuals, make partisan attacks nor unfairly characterize Yorktown as a breeding ground for hatred. I simply want folks to recognize and acknowledge that Yorktown is not immune from hateful ideologies and to challenge leaders and community members to affirmatively do more to counter this disease.

The Examiner, as part of its participation in The Trust Project, can contribute to this effort by highlighting diverse voices and perspectives, encouraging public engagement and dispelling misinformation. To paraphrase a famous poet, “The answer my friends is here with us today.”

Melvyn R. Tanzman is a Mohegan Lake resident.

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