The tragedy in Charlottesville, Va., reminds us that racism is still a cancer that lurks in the body of our nation. So, how do we confront the resurgence of white supremacy in our country?
Even though we have witnessed the election and re-election of the first African-American president, and though many see our nation as “post racial,” have we, as a country, truly reached a state where we have delivered ourselves of the shackles of racism and prejudice, where we can say that we are truly brothers and sisters and regard each other as equals regardless of our skin color and ethnic, racial and economic background?
The tragedy in Charlottesville reminds us of the history steeped in deep racism in the South. Only as recent as June 17, 2015, nine African-American worshippers were shot and killed during bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., by a young racist man. Numerous African-American churches were burned in the South that week following the killings in South Carolina.
In the late 1990s, I attended a national conference, “Creating Safe Communities,” held at the Penn Center on St. Helena Island, near Charleston. My motel was in nearby Beaufort. I asked an African-American man in Beaufort, “How are race relations these days?” He told me that on the weekends, Ku Klux Klan members would drive their pick-up trucks up and down Main Street, wearing their white hoods, with rifles displayed. He said it was a common sight.
Lest anyone feel smug, superior or self righteous and think that violence, racism and hate crimes against African Americans and others occur only in “other places,” think again. The cancer of racism is not confined to just one geographical region of the United States.
Here in San Francisco, a hate crime against an African-American church occurred when St. Paul Tabernacle Baptist Church in the Bayview District, a predominantly African-American neighborhood, was vandalized on Aug. 27 or Aug. 28 in 2015. Vandals broke into the church, spray painted the walls with racist, homophobic and religious graffiti, gouged the church interior’s walls, ripped and poured bleach on the pew cushions and damaged furniture and computer equipment. Two large mirrors behind the pulpit were smashed. The pulpit was defaced with paint. The pastor’s office was vandalized.
St. Paul Tabernacle, which has about 125 churchgoers, has served the San Francisco community for the past 25 years.
The San Francisco Police Department said the vandalism at the church was a hate crime. No arrest has been made.
Recently, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the National Park Service issued a permit to the Patriot Prayer group to hold a “Freedom Rally” at Crissy Field on Aug. 26. In granting the permit to the Patriot Prayer group, have the NPS and the GGNRA not learned anything from the tragic loss of life and the serious injuries that occurred in Charlottesville?
They should not justify their granting the permit to Patriot Prayer on First Amendment rights and remain blind to the purpose of the event, Patriot Prayer’s history of attracting white supremacists, neo-Nazis and right-wing extremists, and the group’s potential to incite violence.
Crissy Field is under federal jurisdiction; its law enforcement is comprised of a tiny police force. Even with the presence of the San Francisco Police Department at the event, there is already serious concern that the police could not handle the mayhem, violence and harm to human life that can potentially occur. It is not a matter of whether it can potentially occur — it’s practically inevitable.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Mayor Ed Lee and San Francisco elected officials have called on the NPS and the GGNRA to rescind the permit to Patriot Prayer. The time to act is now. We must prevent another Charlottesville tragedy. We are the City of St. Francis.
Anh Lê has worked with the Vietnamese American community, the African-American community and other communities in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years.