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240 mayors join compact to 'fight hate, extremism' in wake of Charlottesville violence

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“Dark forces of extremism and violent bigotry are rearing their ugly heads ... We will not permit them to succeed”

Baltimore city workers remove graffiti from the pedestal where a statue dedicated to Robert E. Lee and Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson stood August 16, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland. The City of Baltimore removed four statues celebrating confederate heroes from city parks overnight, following the weekend's violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Today, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Anti-Defamation League held a press conference to deliver their own response to President Donald Trump’s press conference and subsequent statements on the violent demonstrations at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend.

The two groups announced a new joint effort, the Mayor’s Compact to Combat Hate, Extremism, and Bigotry:

Dark forces of extremism and violent bigotry are rearing their ugly heads. We are now seeing efforts in our states and at the highest levels of our government to weaken existing civil rights policies and reduce their enforcement.

We have seen an increase in hate violence, xenophobic rhetoric, and discriminatory actions that target Muslims, Jews, and other minorities. We will not permit them to succeed.

More than 240 mayors have already signed on to the effort in the last 48 hours, representing Democratic and Republican leaders from cities including New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Baltimore, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco.

Organizers noted this was roughly half of the group’s membership, and a quarter of the signatories are Republican. A complete list of signatories can be found here, and interested mayors can join here.

The 10 components of the compact include calls to reject extremism, white supremacy, and all forms of bigotry, and to ensure public safety while protecting free speech and other basic constitutional rights. Signatories also pledge to strengthen civil rights protections and promote law enforcement training to respond to and report hate incidents, crimes, and domestic terrorism.

“Mayors and their cities must continue to be a beacon for inclusion, tolerance, and respect for all,” the compact reads. “We will continue to create stronger cultures of kindness and compassion in our communities, and expect our federal and state partners to join us in this endeavor.”

On a phone call today, many of the mayors noted that a lack of leadership from the White House has motivated their actions. Mayor Shane Bemis of Gresham, Oregon, who made it a point to identify as a Republican, said President Trump’s actions have consequences, and his “lack of moral clarity is destroying a storied political institution. There is clearly an absence of moral leadership from the president.”

“There has been a climate of hate since the election that has sent the wrong message to so many of our citizens,” said Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson of Gary, Indiana. “It would be easy to allow that climate to fester. I think that what has happened in Charlottesville has been a clarion call that this climate can’t be tolerated and can’t be allowed to fester and grow. The only way you remove a climate you don’t want to exist or see in your country or community is to replace it with the climate that you do want to see. That is what we as mayors are prepared to do.”

With nine potential white nationalist rallies scheduled for U.S. cities this weekend, and terrorist attacks using vehicles in Charlottesville and Barcelona in the news, mayors and civic leaders are concerned about rallies, protests, and public safety. The conference will hold a phone call with police consultants later today to discuss strategy around responding to these events.

The mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, Stephen K. Benjamin, spoke about his city’s experiences with protestors over the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse. Permits were issued for the Black Panther Party and the KKK to march and protest on the same day in 2015. At the time, the city passed ordinances to restrict the ability to carry firearms around the state capitol, and officers worked closely with both groups, which helped manage a difficult situation and reduce confrontations and violence. Thoughtful dialogue and coordinated leadership is needed now to diffuse similar situations, he said.

“Clearly, that was two years ago, and now the man with the world’s largest microphone doesn’t have the same soothing voice he did two years ago,” he said. “We need to empower police and law enforcement to do their job, trust them to do their job, and make sure the No. 1 priority is protecting human life.”

The compact does not take a specific stand on the removal of Confederate monuments. According to Tom Cochran, CEO and executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, cities will make their own decision on the issue; some are moving towards removal, and some are moving towards re-contextualization.

Political pressure to remove Confederate monuments has accelerated rapidly since Sunday, with cities and statehouses across the nation deciding to take down statues and monuments. Baltimore removed all four of its Confederate statues overnight, and the mayor of Richmond, Virginia, former capital of the Confederacy, has expressed openness to removing the statues on Monument Avenue.

The racial-justice organization Color of Change launched a national campaign calling for all public memorials to the Confederacy to come down, and Democratic Sen. Cory Booker has introduced a bill to remove Confederate statues from the Capitol.

This isn’t the first time mayors have collectively taken action against the Trump agenda. Local leaders have been pushing back against the administration’s environmental policies, pledging to pursue adoption of local clean energy policies and combat climate change despite the withdrawal from the Paris accord.

“It’s an opportunity for us to step in as mayors; we’ve done it before,” said Mayor Freeman-Wilson. “It’s my assessment that we may have to do it again, and we’re certainly prepared.”