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August 19, 2016

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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June 28, 2016

Court Warns Mississippi Legislature on Efforts to Circumvent Marriage Equality

Yesterday, a federal court gave Mississippi’s legislature a stern warning about its efforts to circumvent the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling.  The warning was made in the context of plaintiffs to a marriage-equality lawsuit asking the U.S. District Court for Northern Mississippi to reopen their case in a challenge to HB 1523, the State’s so-called “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” which goes into effect on July 1st.

Seal_of_Mississippi_2014.svg

Shortly after the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision, the District Court issued a permanent order making the marriage-equality ruling binding on the “… State of Mississippi and all of its agents, officers, employees, and subsidiaries….”

Earlier this year, however, the State enacted HB 1523, which broadly allows Mississippians to deny goods or services to their fellow citizens based on their own “religious beliefs or moral convictions” that marriage is limited to opposite sex couples.  One HB 1523 provision empowers clerks and their subordinates to refuse issuance of marriage licenses based on this religious or moral viewpoint provided that “… marriage is not impeded or delayed as a result of any recusal.”  But the statute contains no protections to safeguard against impediments or delays.

The plaintiffs rightly argue that HB 1523 conflicts with the District Court’s permanent order, and are insisting that it be revised to fully protect their 14th Amendment marriage-equality rights.

In granting the plaintiffs’ request to reopen the case, the Court found that HB 1523 “… may in fact amend Mississippi’s marriage licensing regime in such a way as to conflict with Obergefell.”  Furthermore, it warned that State legislature that:

[T]he marriage license issue will not be adjudicated anew every legislative session.  And the judiciary will remain vigilant whenever a named party to an injunction is accused of circumventing that injunction, directly or indirectly.

The plaintiffs’ request to the Court is part of a broader challenge to the constitutionality of HB 1523, which contains other provisions favoring particular religious or moral viewpoints, including limiting sexual relations to opposite-sex marriage and basing gender identity strictly on biological sex.   The law’s preferences are clearly inconsistent with the First Amendment’s free speech and establishment clauses.  Based on this court ruling, with its warning emphasizing judicial vigilance, there is reason to believe that the discriminatory HB 1523 will eventually be struck in its entirety.

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June 16, 2016

Charleston Anniversary: We Mourn, We Act

One year ago, on June 17, 2015, a white supremacist murdered nine parishioners at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.   It’s terrible – and unfair – that the quiet space in time we should have had to reflect and properly mourn these murders targeting African-Americans has been literally blown apart by another tragedy – even larger in scale – involving the deliberate targeting of members of the LGBTQ community in Orlando this past weekend.

We can and must grieve for the victims of the heartless white supremacist who murdered nine people who had welcomed him into prayer,

communion, and fellowship.   We can and must mourn the victims in Orlando celebrating life during Pride Month and Latino Night.

And:  we can do more than stand in solidarity and mourn.

On this anniversary, after a weekend of bias-motivated mayhem, we should rededicate ourselves to ensuring that we, as a nation, are doing all we can to fight hate and extremism.

1)     Law enforcement authorities are now investigating what role – if any – radical interpretations of Islam played in inspiring the Orlando murderer to act — and that work is clearly justified.  But we must recognize and pay attention to extremism and hate coming from all sources – including white supremacists, like the murderer in Charleston.

2)     Charleston and Orlando are further evidence that firearms are more pop­u­lar than ever as the deadly weapons of choice for Amer­i­can extrem­ists. We must end limitations on federal research on gun violence – and make it more difficult to obtain firearms through increased waiting periods, safety restrictions, and limitations on purchases – especially of assault-style weapons.   None of these steps will certainly prevent the next gun-toting mass murderer – but, as President Obama said, “to actively do nothing is a decision as well.”

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Photo Credit: Cal Sr via Flikr

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.
Photo Credit: Cal Sr via Flikr

3)     We need more inclusive and extensive laws in place to combat violence motivated by hate and extremism.  On the state level, though 45 states and the District of Columbia have hate crime laws, a handful of states – including South Carolina – do not (the others are Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, and Wyoming).  ADL and a broad coalition of three dozen national organizations have formed #50 States Against Hate to improve the response to all hate crimes, with more effective laws, training, and policies.

And, though hate crime laws are very important, they are a blunt instrument – it’s much better to prevent these crimes in the first place.  Congress and the states should complement these laws with funding for inclusive anti-bias education, hate crime prevention, and bullying, cyberbullying, and harassment prevention training programs.

4)     And finally, let us resolve to more fiercely resist unnecessary and discriminatory laws, like North Carolina’s HB 2, that deprive individuals of the opportunity to live their lives in dignity, free from persecution because of their race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

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