The National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter (NLGSF) supports community efforts to rid our city of racist and Islamophobic hate speech and condemns the latest advertisement placed on our public buses by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI).
The latest set of ads cannot be defended as having a political message. As an attempt to undermine ads placed by the #MyJihad initiative, based in Chicago, these AFDI ads have no other interpretation but one simply attacking the dignity of all Muslims and people perceived to be Muslim. They have no purpose but to incite hate crimes and demonize all Muslims.
We call on city leaders to examine these advertisements within the larger context of a broad campaign attempting to dehumanize and segregate Muslims and people perceived to be Muslim. The City of San Francisco must take responsibility for the role it plays in furthering the agenda of this campaign, particularly in light of the alarming rise of hate crimes against Muslims and people perceived to be Muslim. In December in New York City, where AFDI’s ads had been running in the NYMTA, Sunando Sen, an Indian immigrant, was killed because his attacker, who pushed him into the path of an oncoming train, perceived him to be a Muslim. Last year, six Sikhs were killed in a temple as a result of a hate crime, a mosque was burned to the ground in Joplin, MO, and a mosque in Morton Grove, IL, was fired at with a high velocity air rifle while 500 people worshiped. Moreover, it has been well documented that AFDI’s rhetoric was cited by Norwegian mass murder Anders Breivik in advance of his killing spree of 17 teenagers in 2011. These are only a small number of the staggering number of racist hate attacks on people perceived as Muslim that have occurred over the past few years. To view these killings as individual acts that are disconnected from each other and the hateful rhetoric that encouraged them is unacceptable and dangerous.
We are concerned that as the City continues to be complicit in AFDI’s agenda, these hateful advertisements will cause significant harm to the people of San Francisco, and particularly the drivers and passengers of Muni buses. These ads are not simply posted on private property, but rather are on public vehicles that are funded and operated in the city’s name, and that residents depend on to get to their jobs, schools and appointments. Muni drivers are forced to become promoters of hate while riders must sit inside moving billboards of hate. Furthermore, these ads encourage and legitimize more overtly violent expressions of hatred. They create a climate that helps justify discrimination and hate crimes against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim. More broadly, these ads on our city buses create an atmosphere in which racism and hate against any people is made to seem normal, legitimate and acceptable – and they are not.
The NLGSF supports efforts by Bay Area residents, including acts of civil disobedience, to oppose this hate speech. We support all public acts of condemnation by community and political leaders, and encourage much more action against this incitement.