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In Howard, promoting acceptance and civility [Commentary]

I grew up in what was at times a segregated and intolerant community. African-American friends were refused service in restaurants. Others said they were told to stay out of Howard County because they would not be safe. I witnessed the ugliness of bigotry, intolerance and violence.

Fortunately, I had a strong father, an early civil rights leader, who instilled in me the values and courage to speak out. I attended NAACP meetings with him and I learned early on that intolerance, bigotry and violence are never justified.

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That is why it is heartbreaking that while so many who came before us fought and sacrificed to stop injustice and discrimination, we continue to witness insensitive actions and speech. I am disheartened by accounts of intolerance and even more discouraged by efforts to use photographs and incidents from months and even years ago to perpetuate an environment promoting hatred and bullying.

Since the presidential election just over a week ago, we've seen vandalism at churches and schools, hateful social media posts, violence by and against protestors. Many people blame this anger on the long, heated and emotional national campaign. Some have maintained that this sort of reaction is to be expected, even justified.

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I refuse to accept any attempts to rationalize the irrational acts of bigotry and intolerance. We are better than this.

Earlier this year, in my State of the County address, I spoke about the resurgence of anger and hostility in our community. My comments stemmed from a disturbing, racist video that was posted on social media by a high school student. We came together as a community to condemn this action and pledged to do better.

And now, we are reacting to the same anger and prejudice that we banned together against just 10 months ago.

The truth is, there have always been incidents where individuals, for whatever reasons, demonstrate a lack of civility, tolerance and respect. It is distressing to see any incidents of this nature. What is truly terrifying, however, is the recent increase in this unacceptable behavior.

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Our president and president-elect have both said we all want what is best for this country. They have called on all of us to help unify the country in an inclusive and respectful way. As President Obama appropriately said the day after the election, "We're not Democrats first. We're not Republicans first. We are Americans first."

A person's religion, heritage, race, sexual orientation or gender identity/expression should never determine how they are treated. In Howard County, we celebrate and cherish our diversity, which has made our county one of the best places to live in the country.

As community leaders, parents and role models, we must work harder to promote acceptance and civility. I believe it is our responsibility to make sure future generations know why the values we share are so important. This is an opportunity for parents, guardians and educators to talk to our youth, and also encourage our youth to speak to us about issues they find troubling. We can help them understand why intolerant actions they see at school and on social media are not acceptable.

What we have witnessed over the past week is not the Howard County that I know. We must come together to fight bullying, vandalism and intolerance. We need to promote positive dialogue and model respectful behavior. We need to commit to ourselves and our community that Howard County will always be a place where every person is valued as a part of our family.

We must come together as a nation to put an end to this behavior once and for all.

Allan Kittleman, a Republican, is county executive of Howard County.



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