State and local officials joined together in Berkeley on Tuesday morning to express a unified message against hate.
The press event, on the steps of City Hall, included Rep. Barbara Lee, Sen. Nancy Skinner, assembly members Tony Thurmond and Rob Bonta, Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson and Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín.
The officials urged community members to stay away from a rally planned in downtown Berkeley on Sunday that is expected to draw a number of white supremacists. The rally’s organizer, Amber Cummings, said in brief remarks Tuesday morning, before the official press conference began, that white supremacists, and anyone intent on violence, are not welcome at her event. She said her event is being mischaracterized by officials and is focused on free speech, not hate speech.
Rep. Lee said, whatever the official label, the intent of Sunday’s rally is clear.
“The planned demonstration by white supremacists represents a fundamental challenge to our community values regardless of how organizers characterize it,” she said. “Not on our watch are we going to allow hatred and bigotry to permeate our communities.”
Lee said white supremacists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis have become increasingly emboldened under President Donald Trump. But she said many have fought back against hatred in “beautiful demonstrations of solidarity” through events like the women’s marches after the inauguration, and recent events in Boston.
“Let us demonstrate our progressive Berkeley values in how we respond to this challenge,” she said. “This is the home of the peace movement. Let us be peaceful.”
Berkeley Mayor Arreguín said there has been a sharp increase in hate crimes in the Bay Area, state and country under Trump. He urged citizens not to attend Sunday’s rally “for their own safety,” and said the city hopes to “avoid violence at all costs.”
“While we respect everyone’s right to express their point of view, we know that sometimes these people come eager for a fight,” he said. He noted that there will be an increased police presence, but declined to discuss tactics. He said several counter-events will be available for people who want to express opposition; details are forthcoming.
The city will also distribute and hang thousands of posters around town that proclaim “Berkeley stands united against hate.” A fundraiser for the posters is underway.
Describing the recent deadly attack in Charlottesville, he added, “This is racism. This is xenophobia. And there is no place for any of it in Berkeley or anywhere else in our great country.”
The politicians who attended Tuesday’s press event said California is stronger for its diversity. Arreguín, the grandson of immigrants, said diversity is one of the state’s greatest assets.
“We stand for inclusion. We stand for respect. We stand for love,” said Assemblyman Bonta, who represents the 18th District. “And we stand for the dignity of all people.”
Sen. Skinner said she has introduced legislation to toughen California’s hate crime laws such that crimes against anyone who stands in support of protected classes can be prosecuted more intensively. She’s also pushing to have white supremacists treated as terrorists “and directing law enforcement to use all available options, including anti-terrorism and anti-hate crime laws, to fully prosecute members of these groups.”
She urged those who oppose Sunday’s rally not to “bite their bait” or be provoked into reacting to those fueled by hatred.
“We know that, if no one shows up to their events, then they have no one to incite violence against,” Skinner said. “So those of us who do not want to see the violence, we will ignore them as they legitimately should be ignored.”
Thurmond said those fighting for a more just world must use education to teach the next generation tolerance, and said he plans to introduce a resolution that will censure President Trump for his failure to lead.
“He represents the most powerful position in the free world. He must use that to promote peace and tolerance and understanding,” Thurmond said. “If he doesn’t understand that, let our actions here in Berkeley send a message to him and to the world that there’s no place for hate.”
See Berkeleyside’s live video coverage of the event, below.
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