Strong Cities Network Executive Director Eric Rosand participated in a special session on Combatting Hate and Extremism and the Violence they Fuel at the winter 2023 meeting of the US Conference of Mayors. The session, co-chaired by San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt, focused on the hate and extremism threats facing cities and what mayors can do to prevent and respond to them, recognising that mayors (often uniquely) “understand how the evils of hate and extremism affect their communities”.
The special session, convened in Washington, DC, on 18 January, included discussions on issues relating to the under-utilised hate crimes reporting system that the federal government has set up. Vanita Gupta, Associate Attorney General at the US Department of Justice, underscored how enhanced trust between law enforcement and local communities, and increased understanding within communities on how to identify and report hate crimes, would lead to increased reporting levels. She spoke about what mayors can do to help in this regard.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) highlighted tools it has developed, which can help cities implement the 10-point Mayors’ Compact to Combat Hate and Extremism announced at the September 2022 White House United We Stand Summit. This includes providing cities with information on national and local trends on hate incidents and providing anti-bias training to law enforcement, which helps build trust with local communities. The ADL is also working with the City of Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) to develop pilot a tool to help it identify, track and remove hate symbols across its communities.
A number of other mayors, including from Strong Cities member cities, shared practical examples of steps they are taking to address these threats, underscoring the critical role that leadership, multi-disciplinary and multi-sector collaboration, and an emphasis on diversity and inclusion, play here. For example, Mayor Nirenberg highlighted how San Antonio (Texas, US) is working to “develop muscles of compassion” through Compassionate USA, a program that will include a downloadable curriculum that cities around the US can use to push back against hate. Sharon Weston Broome, Mayor of Baton Rouge (Louisiana, US), emphasised the need for mayors to chart a path that allows for difficult conversations, including about racism, injustice and hatred, to take place among a cross-section of the citizenry.
The Mayor of Helsinki (Finland), Juhana Vartiainen, provided a perspective from a mayor of a European city involved in Strong Cities’ ongoing Transatlantic Initiative focused on strengthening cooperation among mayors and cities in North America and Europe. He spoke about how cities can usefully leverage the basic services they provide, including education and social care, to create an inclusive environment that is not conducive to hate. This approach also ensures close cooperation with the police to ensure that when the threat of violence is real, law enforcement can intervene.
Todd Gloria, the Mayor of San Diego (California, US), reminded participants of the positive impact of mayors’ voices and the need for them to speak out consistently against hate and extremism and to commit funding over the long-term to support local efforts to address these threats. He also underscored the importance of creating opportunities for mayors to share with and learn from each other more regularly on these issues, noting that “good mayors borrow but great mayors steal from each other”.
While echoing the call for locally elected officials to speak out to counter the seeds of hate that have been planted, the Deputy Mayor of Munich (Germany) noted how such leaders (particularly women) are being increasingly targeted by hate groups. This, she said, underscored the need for more attention to be given to addressing this aspect of the threat.