Hate-Fueled Speech in North Kingstown
The following letter appeared in the Providence Journal on Sunday, January 22, 2023.
To the editor:
We are saddened and outraged by the disrespect and even hatred shown to elected officials in the Town of North Kingstown. Residents in town have always disagreed about policies and decisions made by the Town Council and School Committee – a strong democratic community is based on vigorous discourse and shared decision making.
But over the past couple of years, healthy disagreement has become increasingly threatening, especially to our School Committee members. Citizens attending Committee meetings shout at the Committee and refuse to follow meeting protocols, frightening the Committee and other citizens in the audience.
Hate and vitriol has become normalized on-line. Newspapers struggle to maintain civil discourse in their on-line feeds and North Kingstown’s elected officials receive threats and hateful comments, sometimes sent by people who refuse to identify themselves. Here in North Kingstown, the most violent and vile hatred is directed at School Committee member Jennifer Lima. Ms. Lima ran for the School Committee on a platform to address systemic racism in our schools, and has been targeted for her leadership and work ever since she was elected (in 2020 with more votes than any other SC candidate). She has spoken hard truths to all of us, but has been effective at raising issues and we are proud of her efforts. A week ago, Ms. Lima was sent an email with an image of a noose and the message, “It’s coming.” The noose has long been a symbol of racism, meant to intimidate and sow fear, a reminder of certain violence and death as a means to maintain white supremacy. Seeing this type of hate-fueled threat levied at elected officials in our town is appalling, and a stark reminder that racism knows no geographic boundary and is not a thing of the past. Hate thrives when people refuse to stand up to it. We are writing today because we believe in the goodness of the citizens of North Kingstown and we ask everyone to stand in support of our community and our elected leaders.