During a press call on Friday, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Anti-Defamation League announced a ten-point plan to combat hate groups in cities and towns across the country. The move comes after President Donald Trump blamed “many sides,” including what he called the “alt-left,” for a violent white supremacist rally and a car attack on counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, last Saturday that left one dead and dozens more injured.
“It absolutely is a clear lack of a moral compass that’s driving this,” Shane Bemis, the Republican mayor of Gresham, Oregon, told reporters Friday. “[Trump] has no moral clarity to speak on this issue. Mayors would never do that in their own communities. It absolutely is a lack of moral leadership.”
At press time, 240 mayors had signed onto the plan, called the “Mayor’s Compact to Combat Hate, Extremism, and Bigotry.” That’s more than half the membership of the mayor’s conference, according to its CEO, Tom Cochran. While the conference does not track its members political affiliations, Cochran told reporters, he estimated that around a quarter of the mayors who’ve signed on are Republicans.
“This is probably the strongest Republican response that we have in history,” Cochran said when asked how many Republican mayors had signed onto the plan.
The plan calls for clear denouncement of hate and bigotry, anti-hate education in public schools, working directly with impacted communities, and increased resources for combating hate crimes and domestic terrorism. The Anti-Defamation League will assist with law-enforcement training and educational resources, according to its CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt.
“Through this partnership, we hope mayors will be able to take advantage of our expertise,” Greenblatt told reporters Friday.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has opened a federal civil rights investigation in the car attack on counter-protesters Saturday that left one dead and 19 injured. That follows on a promise Sessions made during a speech in late June to vigorously enforce federal hate crimes laws, despite his previous opposition to some aspects of those laws as a U.S. senator.
At the same time, Sessions has rolled back the Department of Justice’s use of consent decrees to enforce federal civil rights laws and instructed the department’s Civil Rights Division to investigation university’s affirmative actions programs — policies that makes many advocates nervous the Department of Justice may be stepping back from its historic role enforcing civil rights laws on the state and local levels.
“I think it’s part of a trend of seeing civil rights laws turned on their head and being used to advance an agenda that they certainly were not created for,” Vanita Gupta, former acting head of the Civil Rights Division, told MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid earlier this month of the affirmative-action investigations.
Local and state law enforcement often receive resources from the federal government — including funding, equipment, training, and investigative support for responding to large events like rallies or investigating hate crimes. However, the U.S. mayors who spoke with reporters on Friday said they’re ready to move forward on their initiative with our without moral leadership and resources from the federal government.
“There is so much that can be done in this space without one dime of federal resources from the federal government. So we are not overly reliant on federal resource,” Karen Freeman-Wilson, the Democratic mayor of Gary, Indiana, said. “It is not required for us to lead in this area.”
The new initiative comes as controversy over Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville embroils the White House for a seventh straight day. On Monday, under intense pressure to take a clear stance against white supremacists, Trump explicitly denounced groups like the KKK and neo-Nazis. But he backtracked in a remarkable press conference on Tuesday, saying some “very fine people” protested alongside the white supremacists.
By 7 p.m. that night, the mayor’s conference had begun asking its members to sign onto the city-based plan to combat hatred and bigotry. The response, according to Cochran, was one of the fastest the group has seen in its history. There’s a reason for that, according to Austin Mayor Steve Adler, a Democratic.
“You know, mayors don’t need a teleprompter to say Nazis are bad,” Adler said.