Chattanooga Council Against Hate Findings

Mayor Andy Berke of Chattanooga, TN, speaking at State of the City 2018

Author: Zahed Amanullah
Resident Senior Fellow, Networks & Outreach

Christchurch, New Zealand during Friday prayers. Sri Lanka during Easter services. Poway, California at the conclusion of Passover. The recent global surge of hate and extremism, resulting in the killing of scores of religious worshippers during dates of congregation, has had an extraordinary impact on local communities in the affected cities and beyond. But amidst the grieving, the search for a proactive effort to reduce the impact of hate on these communities is just beginning.

One possible response to this threat has come in the form of the Council Against Hate, a group of volunteer citizens and community leaders chosen by Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Mayor Andy Berke to look at possible strategies to combat hate in their city. Mayor Berke was inspired to create the Council Against Hate as a result of the July 16, 2015, terrorist attacks that took place in his city and following his substantial engagement with the Strong Cities Network, realising that more resources were needed locally to address hate and extremism in all forms.  Speaking last year at the USCM Mayor Berke noted:

“…we started talking about an international group of mayors through the Strong Cities Network, to combat hate and I thought to myself, ‘why am I talking to a bunch of international mayors about what to do all across the world and we’re not doing this in our city the way we should?’ So I stood up last year at State of the City and said we were going to form a council against hate”

Tennessee’s cities, including Chattanooga, “occupy an uncomfortable leadership position among communities that are grappling with these incidents,” according to a preliminary report recently released by the Council. This aligns with recent data from the FBI that ranked Tennessee as “9th in the nation among participating states in the total number of hate crime offenses.” Similarly, according to a story by Nashville’s Fox 17 News, “Chattanooga and Clarksville had the most-reported number of hate crime incidents recorded for bias based on race, ethnicity or ancestry with ten reports each. Chattanooga also ranked highest with six reported incidents based on religious bias as a motivation.”

Mayor Berke’s Council Against Hate convened most recently on 11 April 2019

The report proposes strategies to combat hate in Chattanooga that could serve as a useful framework for cities facing similar challenges. The first deal with advocating for policies and background data, particularly better policies that can protect targeted constituencies from hate crimes, and better reporting of hate crimes at a local, state and federal level. In the private sector, employers and workers should be surveyed about workplace attitudes, cultures and incidents of bias. Collectively, these would provide a mapping of local attitudes, grievances, and vulnerabilities that could be exploited.

The next recommendations are much more direct – engaging young people in combating hate and making sure educators “have the skills and resources to identify discrimination and bias and how to properly address it.” Improving media literacy around hate speech and radicalisation and cultural programming to foster interactions between people who wouldn’t normally interact also factor in.

Although these suggestions would go a long way to addressing the Islamist extremism that Chattanooga suffered in 2015, there is also an urgent need to protect minority Jewish and Muslim communities, as both have been targeted by a resurgence in white nationalism outlined in detail in respective manifestos released by alleged attackers in Christchurch and Poway respectively. A report issued on 30 April from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) shows that assaults against Jews more than doubled in 2018, with 1,879 attacks recorded.

Similarly, a report issued on 1 May by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) shows a significant increase in Islamophobic attitudes by early 2019 based on surveys highlighting agreement upon a number of negative stereotypes about Muslims. This rise correlates with the recent election of America’s first two Muslim congresswomen, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who have been surrounded by a range of prominent controversies relating to their race, religion and character.

The same ISPU report, however, also shows that Jews and Hispanic Americans have the most favourable views towards Muslims of all American subgroups, with white Evangelicals having the least favourable. Although this roughly correlates with divisions promoted through political discourse in the United States, it demonstrates opportunities for embattled minority communities to find common cause. In the aftermath of the recent terrorist attacks, we have seen extraordinary acts of solidarity, for example, between local Jewish and Muslim communities in particular, including fundraising for victims and joint solidarity vigils, as well as between both communities and Hispanic Americans over issues such as immigration. These activities serve as a reminder that with a little forward planning, the goodwill between members of local communities can provide tremendous momentum for peace and security.

All of this requires resources that are at risk of being withheld due to budget cuts or the ever-increasing politicisation of the discussions around hate. For Chattanooga’s Council Against Hate, there are currently no anticipated costs for it to operate during fiscal year 2020, according to city spokesman Kerry Hayes. It would be a shame if cities like Chattanooga, Poway, Christchurch, and others who have suffered at the hands of terror couldn’t find a way to support their best defence against hate – their own diverse communities.

Mayor Berke's Council Against Hate

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