By: Andrew Goldstein for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Almost four months to the day after a gunman killed 11 people at Tree of Life synagogue, hundreds of people attended a forum in the Strip District that explored ways to end the kind of hate that led to that violence.
At a town hall Tuesday at the Heinz History Center called “Working Together to End Hate,” experts from law enforcement as well as officials of advocacy and community groups spoke about how to best address hate speech and prevent hate crime.
And those on the panel brought together to talk about hate all agreed that there was one essential component to stopping hate: talking about it.
“You have to have honest, trusting conversations. You have to believe that you can make a difference,” said panelist Esther Bush, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. “It’s outreach, it’s partnership, it’s having a little bit of trust to get you a second level of trust.”
The forum was sponsored by PNC Bank and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. David Shribman, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s executive editor emeritus, moderated the panel.
Tony McAleer, a former skinhead who now works as a motivational speaker, spoke about his leaving a life filled with hate and now leading one filled with compassion. He credits his transformation to becoming a father and the love and connection he was able to make with his children.
Mr. McAleer, prompted by Mr. Shribman, spoke about how he would have felt about this kind of discussion years ago when he held his racist views.
“Twenty years ago, I would have thought that it was a waste of time. I would have thought that you all were a bunch of idiots,” he said. “Listening to it now, it’s so important to have this discussion.”
Mr. McAleer said it’s important not just to talk, but also to listen. Through that two-way conversation, he said, people can open up and learn to change.
“We’ve seen so many people that we’ve been able to transform just by listening to them,” he said. “You have no idea how powerful listening is, and coming from a place of non-judgment while holding our values.”
The other panelists were former U.S. Attorney David Hickton, Roy Austin, a former U.S. deputy assistant attorney general in the civil rights division, and Michael Lieberman, director of the Civil Rights Policy Planning Center of the Anti-Defamation League.
Mr. Hickton, Mr. Austin and Mr. Lieberman spoke about the difficulty of fighting hate with limited resources and data and an ever growing cyber space where hate speech flourishes. The former U.S. attorney also said President Donald Trump has been unhelpful.
“I believe very strongly that even before he became president, Donald Trump created an environment where hate was more acceptable,” Mr. Hickton said. “And I believe it has gotten worse since he’s become president.”
But Ms. Bush said placing blame can only do so much, and it’s up to each individual to effect change in the world.
“It is all of our responsibility to determine what the United States of America looks like, is going to be like, is acting like today — it’s all about responsibility,” she said. “And how dare us sit back and point to someone else when we’re not providing leadership to express issue or concern about making change.”