Holding aloft signs that proclaimed, “Solidarity Against Hate and Bigotry,” nearly 30 people assembled on Nassau Street at Palmer Square in a vigil to protest the surge in hatred directed toward minority, religious and ethnic groups, as well as the gay, lesbian and transgender community.
The hour-long vigil, which was held Dec. 17, was organized by the Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action and co-sponsored by Not in Our Town, the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice and the Princeton Community Democratic Organization.
Some attendees crossed the street to stand in front of the Nassau Presbyterian Church, waving their signs at passing motorists. Some drivers honked their car’s horn in a show of support. After a few minutes, they rejoined the larger group in front of Tiger Park on Palmer Square.
The attendees were welcomed by the Rev. Robert Moore, executive director of the Coalition for Peace Action. He led them in chanting “Red, yellow, blue, white. We are all precious in God’s sight. LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer), we are all precious in God’s sight.”
“We all know about the terrible surge in hate and bigotry in the virtual world and in the flesh-and-blood world. It is time for all people of good will to stand in solidarity,” Moore said.
“We are here for friends, not bigotry. I really believe, as people of good will do, to do the right thing and take a stand on certain forces of evil in the world. Be activists,” he said.
Everyone has an opportunity to do something and to do their own part, Moore said. If a hateful comment is overheard at a party, “you can’t be silent. The vision God has for us is to be in respectful relation with each other.”
Princeton Mayor Mark Freda thanked the attendees and emphasized that “it is important for all of us to be here. It is more than symbolic. We have to stand up against hate and be strong.”
Salim Manzar, who belongs to the Muslim Center of Greater Princeton in West Windsor Township, said the focus should be on love and respect for each other and not on hate. One draws people with love, he said.
“In our (Muslim) tradition, we are in the world to do things that strengthen the bond of love between us and the divine creator. We have to practice love among ourselves. We are going to be here (on earth) for a short time,” Manzar said.
Naomi Richman of the Jewish Community Relations Council urged the attendees to “stand with each other. We are experiencing an unprecedented level of hate. We really need to stand together to become one community.”
That “unprecedented level of hate” has translated into a five-fold increase in reported bias incidents in New Jersey in the last seven years – from 367 incidents in 2015 to 1,871 incidents in 2021, based on statistics compiled by the New Jersey State Police.
As of Oct. 31, there have been 1,809 reported bias incidents, according to the New Jersey State Police. Full-year statistics for 2022 are not yet available.
The rise in reported bias incidents may reflect a combination of improvements in reporting bias incidents and community outreach, as well as other developments linked to a rise in hate crimes and bias offenses nationwide, officials said.
In New Jersey, anti-Black and anti-Jewish bias incidents continued to be the most common race- and religion-based motivations for alleged bias incidents in 2021 – the most recent year for which statistics are available, according to the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General.
Of the 1,871 reported bias incidents in 2021, anti-Black bias was the motivation for 877 incidents, officials said. Anti-Jewish bias accounted for 347 incidents.
There were 373 reported bias incidents targeting the LGBTQ community and 129 incidents aimed at Asians in 2021, officials said.