By Kevin Deutsch
Congresswoman Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick spoke Wednesday about her recent visit to Israel’s Holocaust museum, an experience she said opened her eyes to how language is used to dehumanize American minority groups.
Cherfilus-McCormick, a lawyer and health care entrepreneur elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in January, made the remarks at the Congressional District 20 Town Hall Unity Forum against hate, held at The Pride Center At Equality Park in Wilton Manors.
The event sought to bring community and faith leaders together to discuss solutions for combatting hate. It was organized amidst a climate of rising reports of hate crimes, both regionally and nationally, and a surge in racist activity by white supremacist groups in recent years.
“The reason why this forum was important is because we can pass legislation federally [to help curb hate crimes]….but what we also need to do simultaneously is ensure that we are actually fostering a community, a culture, of compassion,” said Cherfilus-McCormick, who represents Tamarac and other parts of Broward and Palm Beach Counties. “Because you cannot legislate compassion. You cannot legislate humanity and our civility.”
“This could be our son, our daughter [victimized in hate crimes],” she told attendees. “We all live a human experience. And as you sit here, you see the rise in hate that has been consistent now for….over a decade” against Jews, Muslims, Asians, LGBTQ+ Americans, and other groups.
“Recently, I went to Israel, and I saw… in the [Yad Vashem] Holocaust museum, the words that were used to dehumanize [Jewish people] so we couldn’t see them as ourselves,” said Cherfilus-McCormick, the first Haitian American Democrat elected to Congress. “I said, ‘wait a minute, these are the same systematic ways that were used [to demonize] African Americans, and to hate the African. These are the same systematic ways of making a community look violent or less than that we see with the LBGTQ+ community or the trans community.’”
“So as we live in this post-Trump world, and we see the rise of white supremacists…we have to ask ourselves, ‘do we sit by, watching it go by, and doing nothing?’ But this is truly our destiny moment, so we can fight for the soul of our country. So we can start building that community where we love and see everybody with compassion. And let people know that we will not let hate come into our country. We will no longer let hate grow. And that’s the only way we can go forward.”
The congresswoman said she was calling “on everyone to put down the rhetoric that causes us to fight each other.”
“We have a responsibility as political leaders to speak the truth. We must face our reality as Americans and dedicate ourselves to do better. And it starts here.”
She said her office was launching an anti-hate task force for the congressional district. This group will seek to make communities safer so that “we can go to church without having security, where we won’t have to fund security for synagogues, Black churches, LGBTQ communities.”
“This is not freedom or dignity when we’re protecting ourselves from hate groups,” Cherfilus-McCormick said. “Freedom and dignity is us being able to live and walk in our truth without feeling like we might be in harm’s way.”
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- Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime journalist and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on staff at The Miami Herald, New York Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post.
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