As we commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the 40th Anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. this year it is only right that we take a closer look at the state of race relations in this country, as well as determine where other countries are in their commitment to uphold and respect fundamental freedoms and rights without distinction.
The nooses of Jena, Louisiana and, indeed, in my own State of Maryland, tell us that despite the sacrifices of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and untold others, we still have much work to do on in this country. It is for this reason that I introduced legislation in the Senate calling for the full investigation and criminal prosecution of the hanging of nooses and will continue efforts to fight racism and its effects in our society.
However, we must also note that the bigotry we have seen in the United States is not a unique phenomenon limited to the confines of our own borders. The OSCE, Russia’s SOVA Center, Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, and Human Rights First have all recorded increases in racist murders and other hate crimes in Russia and Ukraine. For the past few years, the European Union Federal Rights Agency has recorded more than 80,000 racist incidents and over 17,000 crimes linked to hate groups annually in the European Union.
Hate crimes. Racial profiling. Rampant discrimination in employment, education, housing, and other sectors are disproportionately impacting African descendants and other minorities. The French riots alerted us to the gross disparities between those living in France’s suburbs, similar to the urban ghettos of the US, and the rest of France’s population. Chants of monkey noises amidst a hail of bananas raining down on soccer fields brought to the world’s attention the racism targeting Black soccer players in Europe.
When paired with the racist, xenophobic, and anti-immigrant remarks of some of Europe’s politicians, it is not difficult to understand how some Europeans might believe such behavior is not only sanctioned, but a part of their civic duty to push out those that don’t fit their image of Europe. Our own immigration debates, recent efforts to erode the gains of the Civil Rights struggle, and attempts to relegate racism as a thing of this countries’ past despite persistent disparities, demonstrate a need for comprehensive strategies and partnerships to combat hate and its ramifications.
Don’t get me wrong, President Putin’s admission that racism is a problem in Russia, the Ukrainian creation of a special security unit to combat xenophobia, and President Sarkozy’s new government plan for France’s poor communities, are all steps in the right direction, but not enough. The hard truth is we all need to be doing more, including holding one another accountable. By learning from one another and developing sustainable partnerships, we can.
We, as Americans, must share what we have learned to become a multi-racial society so that others need not repeat our mistakes. We also must support increased interactions between European minorities and US based civil rights organizations, assistance for European governments in their efforts to combat discrimination, and parliamentary initiatives to combat hateful party politics. To paraphrase the slogan to address racism in soccer, we must kick racism and its ramifications out of our societies.
I look forward to hearing our witnesses’ thoughts on what more we can all be doing to promote diversity and understanding while combating hate in all of our societies.