The U.S. Conference of Mayors hosted events nationwide to publicly reject racism, extremism and bigotry. In Niagara Falls, elected officials, tourism leaders and representatives of the religious community united to share a message that hate is unwelcome in the Cataract City.
On Friday, the Conference of Mayors launched a 10-point initiative to protect the rights of residents. Those points include denouncing acts of hate, training law enforcement to improve its response to hate crimes, and reaching out of community leaders and communities targeted by hate to build trust.
In Niagara Falls, those who gathered in support of promoting diversity and tolerance said the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia - and President Donald Trump's comments suggesting there were good people on both sides - are unacceptable.
"There is no such thing as good on both sides," said Raymond Allen, pastor of Bethany Missionary Baptist Church in Niagara Falls and president of the Niagara Ministerial Council. "It's always wrong when a parent loses their daughter because of hatred and bigotry. I am proud of the Niagara Falls community coming together today to say that we stand against racism and we stand against bigotry, in all of its forms."
Mayor Paul Dyster urged the community to come together to send a message that "extremism and violent bigotry will not be tolerated in our city." He noted that the local gathering was in front of a monument remembering the men who lost their lives battling racial bigotry during the Civil War. He then asked everyone in attendance to join him in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, as he touched the U.S. flag set up behind the podium.
"This flag. Not the Confederate flag, not the Nazi flag, the stars and stripes of the United States of America," Dyster said.
Local tourism leaders also spoke, pointing out that the natural wonder of the world located a short walk away has drawn millions of people from all walks of life.
"We stand on land that, for over a hundred years or more, visitors have come from over a hundred countries and all fifty states," said John Percy, president and CEO of Destination Niagara USA. "All races, all colors have come to visit this destination."
The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies two organizations as hate groups in Niagara County. One is the Racial Nationalist Party, a Lockport-based organization that espouses white nationalist beliefs. The other is identified as Catholic Family News/Catholic Family Ministries, which is headquartered in Niagara Falls, Ontario but is published in Western New York. The organization, according to SPLC, promotes "radical traditional Catholicism," a belief that Jews are the eternal enemy of Christ. It is a movement that, the SPLC points out, is rejected by the Vatican as well as millions of U.S. Catholics.
Niagara Falls Police Superintendent Bryan DalPorto pledged his department's commitment to counter any hate crimes that are reported in his community.
"We will work relentlessly with our federal and state partners, from the U.S. Attorney General's Office and the State Attorney General's Office and the Niagara County District Attorney's Office," DalPorto said. "We take great pride in our department and today I take great pride in our city."