Mark R. Herring, a Democrat, is the Virginia attorney general.
Hate is turning deadly with frightening frequency in America.
Among the latest tragedies to shock the conscience and break the nation’s heart occurred in Pittsburgh when 11 American Jews were shot and killed in their synagogue.
This act of hate and white-supremacist violence was sadly not an isolated event. Just a few days earlier, two African Americans in Louisville were targeted, shot and killed at a grocery store after their alleged assailant attempted, and thankfully failed, to enter a predominantly African American church.
The world watched with horror as what is believed to have been the largest gathering of white supremacists in recent memory occurred on the streets of Charlottesville in 2017, leading to the deaths of Heather Heyer, Virginia State Police Trooper Berke Bates and Pilot Lt. Jay Cullen.
It is well past time for us to acknowledge the real, growing and deadly threat posed by hate and white-supremacist violence.
For a number of years, I have sensed a rise in the threat of white-supremacist ideology and violence. The peddlers of hate have become bolder and more unapologetic about spreading their twisted ideology while becoming less afraid of the consequences of their actions and words. Once hidden in the shadows, they have moved their organizing and indoctrination from the Internet to the streets, and they have become more visible and sophisticated in their recruitment efforts. And where they should have been met with swift consequences and clear condemnation from political and community leaders, they instead have heard indifference, equivocation, tacit approval or worse, which has emboldened them.
In Virginia and around the country, we have seen far too many alarming reminders that we cannot dismiss this growing wave of hate as a harmless fringe element, or as antagonistic trolls looking to provoke a reaction. The threat is real, and the consequences can be deadly.
According to the Virginia State Police, hate crimes are up 64 percent in Virginia since 2013. In 2017, there were more than 200 reported hate crimes, representing a rise in every tracked category of bias — racial, religious, ethnic, sexual orientation and disability. This rise corresponds with a national uptick in hate crimes as reported by the FBI, the Anti-Defamation League and others.
Hate crimes and white-supremacist violence strike at the heart of communities and try to force entire groups of Virginians to live in fear and remove themselves from public life. These crimes inflict damage on the very fabric of our communities themselves.
That is unacceptable, and I am going to do everything I can to make sure everyone in Virginia feels safe, no matter what they look like, where they come from or how they worship. To me, that’s a Virginia value.
We must make it absolutely clear that white-supremacist and extremist violence will not be tolerated in Virginia.
And we need to do more than just say it. We have to pair our words with action. We must give our law enforcement agencies the tools they need to identify and preempt acts of violence and threats to the safety of our communities, and we must make it clear to vulnerable communities that they will be protected and cared for because they are important parts of our Virginia family.
In the past few years, I have asked the General Assembly for a long-overdue update to the state’s hate crimes law, the authority to prosecute hate crimes and bills to better protect our citizens from violence and intimidation by white-supremacist militias, gangs and organizations. Every single measure was defeated, sometimes without so much as a hearing.
That tells me that too many people in Virginia’s General Assembly are still complacent about the growth of white-supremacist violence and hate crimes and are not taking the threat nearly as seriously as they should.
This session, I will reintroduce legislation to better protect Virginians, and I will again make the case that an attack on one of our Virginia brothers or sisters truly is an attack on us all.
What is it going to take to rouse politicians from their slumber on this issue? When will we acknowledge the causes of this violence and put a stop to it? We cannot wait around for another tragedy. We’ve already endured too many.