August 5, 2000

Against Bigotry and For Building a Better Community

by Rocky Anderson

what-it-is-about.jpgToday, we are calling for the people of this community to reject bigotry, to reject resentment, and to reject unkindness toward others in our community – and to embrace neighborliness, to embrace understanding, and, most of all, to embrace compassion toward all.

Recently, there have been charges of discriminatory treatment of Latinos by police officers, particularly with respect to involving INS officers in routine stops of people who appear, from their skin color or from their language, to be from Mexico or Central or South America.

Also, a Community Council Chair has repeated his complaints about Spanish-speaking businesses on the west side, going so far as to say that if a shopping plaza comprised of Hispanic businesses were on fire, he would go there with his gas can.

These incidents point out the need for greater community – for people coming together in good faith, to identify problems, then to work toward solutions.

I submit that the first thing to be done is for all of us to put into practice the principles we espouse in our churches, in our schools, and to our children.

Although it is not my intention to preach any particular religion, I think it would go a long way to making this a better community if we would all hearken to the message of the Book of Matthew, Chapter 25:31-40, where Jesus commended those who feed the hungry, clothe the needy, help the sick, and visit those who are in prison. In fact, he said that he is the sick person, he is the hungry person, he is the person in need of clothing, and he is the prisoner. As he put it, “Whatsoever you do for one of these, the least of my brethren, so you do unto me.”

The application of the golden rule in our daily lives will make a huge difference. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

And perhaps Rabbi Hillel reduced the rules of ethical treatment to their most fundamental when he wrote: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow creature. That is the whole Law; the rest is commentary.”

I cite these not as supporting any particular religion, or religion in general, but to remind the people of this community that it is what we practice, not what we preach, that counts.

And it is what we practice that has a real-life impact on people’s lives – and on the quality of life for our entire community.

what-it-is-about.jpgWe are ill-served when people who hold themselves out as community leaders divide our community – either by turning the west side against the east, or by trying to turn people of one race against people of different races.

I am calling today for everyone to do what they can to take a constructive, active part in our community. If we don’t approve of the leadership in a community council, we should become involved. Instead of looking for the Mayor or the City Council to control the outcome, we ask that neighborhoods and individuals take the control, through organizing and through participation. Empowering individuals is the only long-term solution to these issues. The active involvement of just a few people, particularly in community councils, can make all the difference.

This community is becoming far more diverse. And, although there are those who would like everything to remain as it was 25 or 50 years ago, that diversity brings strength to our community.

In 1990, minority enrollment in SLC schools was 22% of the total in K-12. By 1999, minority enrollment had increased to 41%. On the west side of Salt Lake City, 68% of the public school enrollment is currently comprised of minority students. In some of our public schools, more than a dozen languages are spoken. We should do everything we can to celebrate our differences, including our languages; through that recognition of the value of diversity will come real unity – and with it, compassion and neighborliness.

In the past 8 months, we have been making great strides in bringing more diversity – and with it, a greater range of experience, to City government. You see here with us today several of the people newly appointed by me, including people who are Ph.Ds, long-time community activists, and law school graduates. Among this terrific staff are Latinos, East Indians, Caucasians, Native Americans, African-Americans, and Vietnamese. And we are striving to obtain even greater diversity throughout City government. With the diverse backgrounds, we have a much stronger staff and are better equipped to serve the people of SLC.

Likewise, with diverse neighborhoods and with a diverse community, we can have a stronger, more unified City – when we come together, when we interact more with one another, when we all take part in our communities, and when we all respect and value the differences between us.

Let us take this opportunity to say “No” to intolerance and incivility, to division and resentment. And let us say “Yes” to greater understanding, better treatment of our neighbors, and, essentially, to greater compassion.

Our city is comprised of people who, with the exception of the original Americans, are here because their ancestors immigrated from other countries. Let us welcome through kind hospitality those who are new to our community. It is the right thing to do – and it will make all of our lives more enriched.

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