KKK members in Charlottesville, VA.
KKK members in Charlottesville, VA. Steve Helber/AP

In absence of leadership from the White House, says the director of the Anti-Defamation League, cities need to step up.

Our nation has a long history of presidents standing up to bigotry and hate. But President Trump did the opposite in response to the largest gathering of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and KKK members in more than a decade. The bigotry-fueled violence led to the death of an innocent woman and two state troopers, dozens injured, and a deeply rattled country.

The events in Charlottesville are just the latest time in recent memory where we have seen an escalation of a hatred and bigotry in America. Recently, there has been an increase in violence and hate incidents targeting Muslims, Jews, and other minorities. Hateful rhetoric that once lived in the darkest corners of society has crept into the mainstream. We all must push back loudly to show such vile language and actions are unacceptable in our communities.

Times like these require both moral leadership and strong action. It was profoundly disturbing when President Trump equated racist white supremacists in Charlottesville with counter-protesters who were there to stand up against hate. The entire Unite the Right rally was built on racial and conspiratorial anti-Semitism. There is no rationalizing white supremacy and no room for this vile bigotry. It is un-American and it needs to be condemned without hesitation. The president has equivocated on something unequivocal.

Moreover, the president’s inability to take action to prevent such events from happening again is unacceptable. He needs to direct the Department of Justice and the FBI to ensure all law enforcement is trained on how to deal with hate and extremists. He needs to task the Department of Education to prioritize anti-bias and anti-hate content so kids learn that in America our differences are cherished, not seized upon. He needs to engage the Department of Homeland Security to re-fund the countering violent extremism grant program, and ensure it fights all forms of extremism. But he has done none of this.

Fortunately, mayors across the country are stepping up.

For decades, America’s mayors have taken a strong position in support of civil rights and in opposition to racism and discrimination of all kinds. They have spoken out against injustice and worked to build tolerance and understanding within their communities. They have undertaken efforts to integrate immigrants and have adopted a variety of policies to ensure their LGBT residents are treated equitably. Mayors have condemned the bigotry and violence seen in Charlottesville, and have now come together to do what is needed to heal their communities -- and to ensure that the U.S. continues the progress we’ve made as a country in the five decades since the murder of Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi, the bombing that killed four young girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and the March on Washington led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Together, the Anti-Defamation League and the U.S. Conference of Mayors have announced a Mayors’ Compact to Combat Hate, Extremism and Bigotry that will become a key component of a broad new Alliance Against Hate. Through the partnership, mayors will take advantage of ADL’s expertise, including its renowned anti-hate education program for grade schools, and the anti-bias training it delivers to law enforcement agencies, including every new FBI agent.

More than 270 mayors have already signed the Mayors’ Compact to Combat Hate, Extremism and Bigotry and pledged to implement the joint plan. They will take a fresh, comprehensive approach to unwind divisive forces in their cities, stop hate crimes, and work to create new bonds in their communities. They have pledged to vigorously speak out against all acts of hate; insist that bias-motivated violence be punished to the fullest extent of the law; promote law enforcement training on hate crimes and anti-bias education in schools; encourage community activities that celebrate cultural and ethnic diversity; and advocate for aggressive enforcement of civil rights laws and strengthening of hate crimes laws. They will ensure public safety, while safeguarding freedom of speech and other fundamental rights protected by the Constitution.

Regardless of leadership in the White House, we have the power to enact meaningful and lasting change at the local level.

Mayors and their cities will be a beacon for inclusion, tolerance, and respect for all. We will continue to build stronger cultures of kindness in our communities, and ensure those responsible for extremist and bias-motivated criminal conduct are brought to justice. Together, we will find a path forward and restore our great nation.

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