If you saw a young child being attacked on the street, would you do something to stop it?
That’s a defining question to a person’s moral character. But it’s also a defining question for a community’s moral character: What are we willing to do to protect our children?
That question is especially pertinent right now as we see the wave of violence against Muslim Americans and Jews in the wake of the Trump administration’s xenophobic policies.
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White House rhetoric and executive orders targeting Muslims and immigrants have emboldened the most violent factions of society to step-up their hate crimes against the innocent. The week after Trump’s election, hate crimes in New York City jumped 31 percent. In 2017, hate crimes in that city have nearly doubled.
Religious minorities are especially vulnerable. Since January, 90 bomb threats have been made to 55 Jewish community centers and schools. In February, two Jewish cemeteries were desecrated, one in Philadelphia and another in a suburb of St. Louis. Hundreds of headstones were toppled over. At the same time, there has also been a rise in threats targeting the Muslim community.
Just a couple of weeks ago a mosque in Florida was the victim of arson, the third time an Islamic center has been set on fire this year. In the past two months, two mosques in California had their windows shattered and were vandalized with hateful graffiti. In the past year, the number of anti-Muslim groups has grown from 37 to 101. In 2010, there were only five.
The enormous increase in violence against religious institutions puts all our children at greater risk, a risk that is unacceptable to any community members regardless of their faith. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 1 million nonfatal criminal acts took place on school grounds in 2015.
Security agents on school grounds act as peacekeepers and deterrents to violence, providing a safe environment for students to thrive. The problem is that while most public schools can afford security to protect the children, faith-based schools do not have the same degree of funding. California hosts 2,000 faith-based educational institutions with more than 300,000 students. The increase in hate crimes makes children at these schools particularly vulnerable targets with very little protection.
Eighteenth-century British parliamentarian Edmund Burke famously said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” This is why it’s so important for Californians to support Assembly Bill 927, which will create a mechanism to provide security services at faith-based schools in response to the increasing threat of violence.
New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have already enacted similar legislation to protect their children. Californians can do no less. To do nothing to fight this threat against our children is to allow this evil of hate crimes against children to flourish. And that is something Californians will not do.
Marc Levine, a Marin County Democrat, represents the 10th Assembly District and introduced AB 927 in February. He can be contacted at Assemblymember.Levine@assembly.ca.gov. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a renowned athlete, activist and author. His political and social commentary and charity work earned him the Presidential Medal of Honor in 2016. Follow him on Twitter @KAJ33.