In recent months, there has been a surge in reported hate speech - on Jews, Hispanics, Muslims, African Americans, women and members of the LGBTQ community. Now an international group of 90 organizations, including the Holocaust Center of Buffalo, plus 71 Holocaust scholars and educators have signed on to a statement condemning such intolerance.
In November, the Southern Poverty Law Center said New York was among the places reporting the largest spike in hate incidents following the election of Donald Trump. A number of incidents of racial bigotry have taken place at schools, among them Canisius College, SUNY campuses, New York University and the New School in New York City.
The incidents prompted the state Attorney General's Office to issue a bulletin to all New York law enforcement offices outlining New York's hate crimes law, while stressing the need to identify and investigate all cases. The state's Division of Human Rights also introduced a new hotline for members of the public to report incidents of bias and discrimination.
"You know, we have to stop this before it gets worse," said Holocaust Center of Buffalo Board President Pieter Weinrieb. "It can start in smaller towns or smaller cities and then it becomes widespread on a national level and then even on a global level. That's where we start having the real issues where we start getting into genocide and that is certainly something that everybody wants to be aware of so that we can prevent those things from happening."
Holocaust Center Board Chair Pieter Weinrieb said the condemnation is not a political statement, but it is hoped that lawmakers, media and other organizations and individuals "refuse to provide a stage" on which hate groups can "normalize their agenda."
"I think what's important is that our statement get into the hands of everyone, " he said. That can be lawmakers, lawyers, judges, doctors. If you look at the history of the Holocaust, all of those people were affected and somehow were corrupted a lot by what happened in Germany in the 1940s. And so we need to get this statement in the hands and minds of everyone and everyone can work together to try to make this world a better place and free from this kind of rhetoric."
Is Buffalo particularly vulnerable to such acts, given its reputation as one of the nation's most racially divided cities?
"There seems to be a notion that there are divisions, that there are certain people responsible for economic problems, for criminal problems and if we can solve those people, we can somehow solve all our own problems," he said. "Is Buffalo unique? I don't think Buffalo is unique on that front."
The statement recalls the words of Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel,"I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation."
Weinrieb said hate is an international scourge that will continue to replicate itself if not stopped.