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August 19, 2016 Off

The Living Memory of a Lynching

How an Injus­tice Com­mit­ted Over 100 Years Ago Inspires Our Com­mit­ment to Jus­tice Today

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog orig­i­nally appeared on Medium

Leo Frank

This week, we mark a somber anniver­sary of the 101st anniver­sary of the lynch­ing of Leo Frank, a Jew­ish busi­ness­man sent to Geor­gia to man­age his family’s pen­cil fac­tory. This lynch­ing took place at a time of ram­pant anti-Semitism in the South and more broadly in Amer­i­can soci­ety. So it was no sur­prise that when a young Chris­t­ian girl was found mur­dered on the prop­erty, fin­gers were pointed at the out­sider Frank. Despite a lack of evi­dence, and in part due to an envi­ron­ment of incite­ment, Frank was found guilty and sen­tenced to death.

When the gov­er­nor of Geor­gia sub­se­quently com­muted Frank’s sen­tence from cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment to life impris­on­ment, a mob was enraged by this act of mercy for a Jew. At mid­night just over 100 years ago, they tore Frank from his prison cell at the Milledgeville State Pen­i­ten­tiary and hung him on a tree in Mari­etta. Pho­tog­ra­phers cap­tured the grotes­querie for posterity.

The sham trial and bru­tal lynch­ing were an injus­tice and a wound whose pain still sears the Jew­ish com­mu­nity. It was an iso­lated inci­dent for the Jew­ish com­mu­nity, but just one of thou­sands of lynch­ings car­ried out against black Amer­i­cans dur­ing that time, mur­ders that still scar our national psy­che. And it was a moment in time that made clear the need for ADL, which had been founded in 1913.

In this moment, our founders hud­dled in Chicago and laid out a char­ter for a new orga­ni­za­tion they called the Anti-Defamation League. They wrote that it would be ener­gized by a sim­ple mis­sion: “to stop the defama­tion of the Jew­ish peo­ple and to secure fair treat­ment and jus­tice to all.”

These activists set out to address a mis­sion which even­tu­ally led ADL to address the sys­temic dis­crim­i­na­tion and per­va­sive prej­u­dice that kept Jews from achiev­ing full equal­ity in the United States. Decades later, this led to the break down of quo­tas that kept Jews out of higher edu­ca­tion and the tear­ing down of cul­tural bar­ri­ers that pre­vented our com­mu­nity from par­tic­i­pat­ing fully in Amer­i­can life. Their pas­sion prompted our work to unmask hate groups and expose big­ots. It moti­vated our com­mit­ment to use edu­ca­tion to tear out hatred at its roots. It dri­ves our work today to under­stand anti-Semitism around the world and to use inno­va­tion to iden­tify and call out hate in all its forms.

Basi­cally, the ADL could not have saved Leo Frank, but we since have endeav­ored to build a world where this kind of lynch­ing never again would take place.

In 2016, the Amer­i­can Jew­ish com­mu­nity cer­tainly has over­come many of the obsta­cles that once held us back. We now pos­sess a degree of polit­i­cal power and social cap­i­tal that was unimag­in­able in the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury. To a large extent, the open anti-Semitism that was woven into the cul­ture of a prior gen­er­a­tion has been pushed out of the realm of polite con­ver­sa­tion. But it has not gone away.

Anti-Semitism remains a potent force and a per­sis­tent prob­lem in our soci­ety, even if it now assumes dif­fer­ent forms. In an age of fil­ter bub­bles and per­sonal news feeds, self-selecting com­mu­ni­ties traf­fic in anti-Semitism and rein­force each other’s con­spir­a­cies. We also encounter this hatred in rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent ways on social mediaon our col­lege cam­puses or even on the wrestling mat in the Olympics.

Indeed, though open anti-Semitism remains largely taboo in the main­stream, we see haters often hid­ing behind a veneer of ‘polit­i­cal cor­rect’ hos­til­ity, direct­ing their ani­mus toward the Jew­ish state rather than Jews as a reli­gious group. But we rec­og­nize the dou­ble stan­dards, overt demo­niza­tion and the denial of the very right of the Jew­ish state to exist, a phe­nom­e­non also known as dele­git­imiza­tion. Despite all the grave injus­tices in the world, these are tac­tics only directed at Israel. They are reminders that what we are fac­ing in a ris­ing tide of anti-Zionism is lit­tle more than a mod­ern ver­sion of the Old­est Hatred.

That is why ADL remains ded­i­cated to our found­ing pur­pose. We never will relent in the fight against anti-Semitism. And that is why we also speak out against all forms of bigotry.

Some seek to por­tray ADL’s one hun­dred year com­mit­ment to fight hatred in all forms as a dilu­tion of our focus. They say that ADL has lost its way. But we are not dis­tracted by arm­chair crit­ics who mis­char­ac­ter­ize our work from the com­fort of the side­lines. We know that our case is strength­ened when we dare greatly, that we are stronger when we find com­mon cause with oth­ers who also face hate.

The pur­suit of part­ners does not mean that we will shy away fight­ing anti-Semitism when­ever it comes from. ADL will con­tinue to call out any­one who ped­dles in prej­u­dice regard­less of their party or sta­tion, whether it’s those seek­ing pub­lic office who resort to car­toon­ish slan­der or those who traf­fic in a mod­ern ver­sion of the age-old blood libel.

And we will con­tinue to stand by other com­mu­ni­ties who suf­fer from hatred and ter­ror. That is ADL stood with the Sikh com­mu­nity after the mur­der of four wor­ship­pers at a Gur­d­wara in the sum­mer of 2012. That is why in the wake of the mas­sacre at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last year, ADL launched 50 States Against Hate, to ensure that there are ade­quate hate crimes laws in all 50 states to pro­tect mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties. That is why we sup­ported the LGBT com­mu­nity after the heinous ter­ror attack per­pe­trated in Orlando ear­lier this sum­mer. And that is why ADL will call outanti-Muslim big­otry and the wor­ry­ing increase in vio­lence tar­get­ing Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties and places of worship.

Our tra­di­tion implores us: “Jus­tice, jus­tice shall you pur­sue.” On this anniver­sary, Leo Frank’s mem­ory impels us to ignore the crit­ics and fight fero­ciously against anti-Semitism and big­otry in all its forms. To para­phrase Dr. King, we recom­mit to the strug­gle because the work is not yet done.

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August 17, 2016 Off

Texas Attorney General Wrongly Approves Courtroom Prayer

Texas AG LogoOn August 15, the Texas Attor­ney Gen­eral issued an opin­ion which found that a county judge’s prac­tice of open­ing his daily court­room pro­ceed­ings with prayer is con­sti­tu­tional.  The opin­ion was issued in response to a request by State Com­mis­sion on Judi­cial Con­duct (“Com­mis­sion”), as well as  the Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor.   It mis­con­strues the law and undoubt­edly will lead to reli­gious coer­cion in  the Judge’s courtroom.

Wayne L. Mack, a Jus­tice of Peace in Mont­gomery County, estab­lished a vol­un­teer chap­lain pro­gram that invites “’all reli­gious lead­ers of any faith in [his county] to par­tic­i­pate.’”  On a daily basis, a vol­un­teer chap­lain is “invited to ‘give a brief prayer dur­ing the open­ing cer­e­monies’ of the Jus­tice of the Peace’s court pro­ceed­ings.”  Fur­ther­more, “‘[n]o guid­ance is given about the tone or con­tent of the prayers.’”

In oppos­ing this prac­tice, the Com­mis­sion referred the Attor­ney Gen­eral to a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Cir­cuit deci­sion inval­i­dat­ing open­ing court­room prayers.   Fail­ing to cite one deci­sion to con­trary, the Attor­ney Gen­eral opin­ion instead erro­neously relies on U.S. Supreme Court leg­isla­tive prayer deci­sions to val­i­date the court­room prayer practice.

These leg­isla­tive prayer deci­sions, how­ever, are a nar­row excep­tion to the First Amendment’s Estab­lish­ment Clause.  They are based on a long tra­di­tion of open­ing prayer before state leg­is­la­tures, but there is no such tra­di­tion in Amer­i­can court­rooms.  Indeed, the Court of Appeals deci­sion cited by the Com­mis­sion rejected an  equiv­a­lence between leg­isla­tive and court­room prayer because “’for the judge to start each day with a prayer is to inject reli­gion into the judi­cial process and destroy the appear­ance of neu­tral­ity.’”  And because lit­i­gants are required to be present in court, the risk of reli­gious coer­cion is much greater than in the con­text of a leg­isla­tive body.   Fur­ther­more, even under the Supreme Court’s most recent and overly broad leg­isla­tive prayer deci­sion, a prayer prac­tice can­not result in a ““pat­tern of prayers that over time den­i­grate, pros­e­ly­tize, or betray imper­mis­si­ble gov­ern­ment pur­pose.”   No such lim­i­ta­tion exists in Judge Mack’s courtroom.

Accord­ing to the Attor­ney Gen­eral Opin­ion, per­sons who are required to appear before Judge Mack will not be sub­ject reli­gious coer­cion because “ ‘the bailiff pro­vides an oppor­tu­nity for indi­vid­u­als to leave the court­room dur­ing the prayer and explains that par­tic­i­pa­tion in the prayer will have no effect on the deci­sions of the court. ‘”

That pol­icy is grossly unre­al­is­tic and is of lit­tle com­fort to prospec­tive lit­i­gants before Judge Mack.  Rather, as cor­rectly artic­u­lated by the Com­mis­sion in its request for an Attor­ney Gen­eral opin­ion on this issue:

Objec­tively, it would appear axiomatic that any­one who would dare to leave the court­room upon this announce­ment and return after the prayer when the judge is present is being placed in an unten­able posi­tion. By exit­ing and then return­ing to the court­room, the lit­i­gant runs the risk that he or she will pos­si­bly be noticed by the judge as hav­ing left the court­room dur­ing the prayer and held up to ridicule, den­i­grated, or retal­i­ated against by the judge or by the com­mu­nity for imply­ing a rejec­tion of the judge’s Chris­t­ian reli­gious beliefs.

At the same time, those who remain silent and choose to stay in the court­room may be sub­jected to a court-sanctioned prayer and gov­ern­men­tal endorse­ment of a reli­gious belief other than their own, in vio­la­tion of the Estab­lish­ment Clause. The United States Supreme Court specif­i­cally addressed the dan­gers of this kind of endorse­ment, which “sends a mes­sage to non­ad­her­ents that they are out­siders, not full mem­bers of the polit­i­cal com­mu­nity, and an accom­pa­ny­ing mes­sage to adher­ents that they are insid­ers, favored mem­bers of the polit­i­cal community.”

In our nation’s courts, the Con­sti­tu­tion demands that all per­sons be treated equally before the law regard­less their faith.  The Attor­ney General’s approval of this court­room prayer prac­tice threat­ens to under­mine this crit­i­cal prin­ci­ple.   This unfair and exclu­sion­ary prac­tice endorses and coerces reli­gion in clear vio­la­tion of the Estab­lish­ment Clause.  It should be struck down by a fed­eral or state court.

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August 12, 2016 Off

California White Supremacist Convicted of Murder

On August 11, 2016, a jury con­victed white suprema­cist Billy Ray Mount, of Clear­lake, Cal­i­for­nia, on charges of second-degree murder.

Billy Ray Mount

Billy Ray Mount (Lake County Sheriff’s Office)

Mount, 36, a mem­ber of the racist skin­head orga­ni­za­tion Volks­front, killed Steven Galvin in a drive-by shoot­ing on July 2, 2015, appar­ently in retal­i­a­tion for Galvin’s alleged theft of a tablet computer.

Accord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors, David “Cyclops” Cox, a mem­ber of local racist skin­head group Modesto Hard­core, allegedly called for the attack on Galvin, and was in the car with Mount when the mur­der occurred. Cox, pro­tected by a series of immu­nity agree­ments, pro­vided key tes­ti­mony against Mount dur­ing the trial, recount­ing the mur­der in detail, and telling the jury that Mount had con­fessed to killing Galvin.

Volks­front is a vir­u­lently racist and anti-Semitic group founded in Port­land, Ore­gon, in 1994, whose pri­mary agenda was to estab­lish a whites-only region in the Pacific North­west. Although the group claims to be non-violent, a num­ber of their mem­bers have been con­victed of vio­lent crimes. While it is now essen­tially defunct, the orga­ni­za­tion saw a period of growth between 1999 and 2012. Their Cal­i­for­nia pres­ence has been inter­mit­tent, based on the com­ings and goings of key lead­ers, but many Volks­front adher­ents still iden­tify with the orga­ni­za­tion and social­ize infor­mally. A num­ber of mem­bers also cross-identify with the white suprema­cist group Blood and Hon­our.

In addi­tion to the second-degree mur­der con­vic­tion, Mount, who has a prior crim­i­nal his­tory, was also found guilty of assault with a firearm, dis­charge of a firearm from a vehi­cle, felon in pos­ses­sion of a firearm, and a num­ber of “spe­cial” alle­ga­tions. Pros­e­cu­tors expect Mount’s sen­tence, to be handed down on Sep­tem­ber 6, to range from 25 years to life.


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