There is only right and wrong

This past Saturday, I spent the morning with my running mate, Juliana Stratton, at perhaps one of the most joyful events of the year — the Bud Billiken parade, the largest African-American parade in the country with people of all backgrounds coming together.

Unfortunately, that same afternoon, we sat in horror watching the events of Charlottesville unfold.

The violence led by neo-Nazis and the tragic murder of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, an anti-hate protester in Charlottesville, Virginia, shocked the conscience and left many Americans wondering what direction our leaders would provide after the violence advocated by white supremacists.

At these moments of national concern, we all look to our leaders, particularly our president, hoping the government will weigh in unequivocally against evil. But instead Donald Trump’s response on Saturday was to say “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides — on many sides.” There are not many sides to the Charlottesville murder. There is only right and wrong.

There’s a truth about public service that is often unspoken and rarely understood — that the role of our elected officials is about much more than balancing budgets and ensuring the delivery of essential services. It is about setting a tone affirming that all Americans may live free from the threat of violence based upon their race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

And that our society will ensure their protection, reinforcing that message with the passage of meaningful hate crime laws, appropriate training of law enforcement and the judiciary, and the organizing of community forums to give our fellow citizens, our very neighbors, the opportunity to be heard in a respectful and safe environment.

Setting a tone of inclusiveness and ensuring protection for all begins at the top, whether from the White House or the Statehouse. There may be no more important obligation of our elected chief executives than to demonstrate such moral leadership and clarity. But if we are slow to act, or equivocate, or abdicate this responsibility altogether, the bigots, haters and extremists will fill the breach, and they will take it as a sign they can get away with it again.

Elie Wiesel once said “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” As a victim of the Nazis’ horrific effort to wipe out Jews, Roma, LGBT people and so many others, Wiesel knew that there is no place for neutrality when it comes to rebuking hate.

Leadership means setting a moral tone. There are not “many sides” in the fight against hatred and bigotry. There is only right and wrong.