“To combat prejudice and bigotry, it will take a dedicated effort, and mayors have long been a beacon for inclusion and tolerance and respect,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “Times like this require both moral leadership and strong action,” a kind that mayors can provide “whether or not we are seeing that from the president,” Greenblatt said.
Several of the mayors who announced the effort, including Mitch Landrieu (D) of New Orleans, have been on the front lines of efforts to remove Confederate symbols from public areas. But “The Compact” does not explicitly address how cities should handle such monuments, and it does not wade into the issue of “sanctuary cities” that refuse to help detain and deport illegal immigrants.
Still, in a teleconference with reporters, the mayors called it a strong gesture on the part of leaders who are on the front lines of the heightening tensions over race that boiled over in Charlottesville, where one woman died and others were injured in violence tied to a white-nationalist rally. Already, they said, more than 200 cities have signed on to the pledge, including large cities such as Los Angeles and New York, smaller communities such as Gresham, Ore., and Democrat-led and Republican-led jurisdictions.
The announcement comes as U.S. cities are under new pressure to delicately handle requests by white-supremacist groups to stage similar rallies and to respond to citizens’ demands to remove Confederate statues and symbols. This weekend, cities are bracing for a possible wave of demonstrations by white-supremacist groups and leftist counterprotesters, with Boston imposing strict rules in hopes of keeping a planned protest there Saturday nonviolent.
It also comes as criticism is mounting against Trump, who this week blamed “both sides” in Charlottesville for the violence and lamented the removal of “beautiful” Confederate monuments. In a call with reporters, several mayors said it was up to leaders such as them to unabashedly call out racism in the absence of such language from the president.
“Mayors would never divide their community like that. We just can’t,” Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis, a Republican, said on the call. “We are not suffering from any moral confusion here at city hall.”
Correction: This story was updated to correct the number of cities that signed onto the compact. The number is more than 200, not more than 400.