National Civil Rights Museum -Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo: Adam Jones)

Why? Why is there such hatred in the world? What is it about the human condition that lends itself to bigotry, hate and violence? And why, oh why,  is so much blood shed in the name of God?

These are not new questions. They are not new problems.

Civiletti column badgeAnd Riverhead, a community not unlike so many others, has its share of them.

The beatings and robberies of Latino men in downtown Riverhead over the past year may or may not have been hate crimes, per se. The victims may not have been chosen because of their ethnicity.

But the animosity toward the Latino community among so many non-Latinos in Riverhead — and beyond — is palpable. One need look no further than the RiverheadLOCAL Facebook page for evidence. All I ever have to do is post an item about someone with a Hispanic-sounding name being arrested for something or being involved in a car accident and it triggers what has become, sadly, a predictable flood of comments about “them” — how “they” behave, what “their” character is like, how “they” should all be “sent back.”

So many assumptions. So many generalizations. And so much bigotry and hate.

It’s not confined to Latinos, either. No. Where hate’s concerned, there’s plenty to go around. Blacks, gays, Jews, trans, Muslims. Hate knows no boundaries.

Sometimes the hate-driven vigilantism raging on the Facebook page just takes my breath away. For example:

Jail time is $30,000 grand a year, a 9mm bullet costs $0.30. I just figured a way to save taxpayer money and get justice all in one moment.

But what do I know? I’m just another “liberal” after all. And you know how “they” are. Liberals around here are the object of a fair amount of hate themselves. Liberals are to blame for many societal ills, apparently. According to people commenting on our Facebook post regarding a man charged by police with having sex with a child, liberals are responsible for the existence of sex offenders. I suppose that must be because “liberal” thinking prevents society from exacting punishment like severing a convicted sex offender’s genitals. Or even the requirement that there be a conviction in the first place. Isn’t an accusation enough? Guilty until proven innocent and all that. (That pesky constitution of ours, how it gets in the way of justice!)

This week, a reader condemned RiverheadLOCAL on our Facebook page for publishing a story about the arrest and indictment of a black man on a rape charge. Publishing a story like that in a racist place like Riverhead, he said, was inciting the mob, which would surely react in a racist way.  (Indeed, some commenters did.)

That gave me pause. I don’t — and would never — make a decision to report or not report an arrest because of a defendant’s race. But is reporting on crime when the defendants are black or Latino fanning the flames of racism in our community? I had never thought about that before. And I didn’t like how it felt to consider it.

I don’t know what the answer is to any of these questions. I just know that hate abounds. There is far too much hate in the world — and far too much hate in our little town. Hate hurts us all, whether we are its direct victims or not.

It’s good to see Riverhead Town officials doing something proactive about addressing hate and bias in our community. They resurrected the town’s anti-bias task force, which had been dormant for some time.

The group — which is looking for members, by the way — had its first meeting this week in Riverhead Town Hall. The chairman of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission, Rabbi Steven Moss, was on hand to talk about the mission of the task force and present a 40-minute documentary film, The Shadow of Hate, produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Nominated for Best Short Documentary in 1995, it is a moving and sobering film. It’s not easy to watch, because it presents a very painful reality. But it’s worth watching. I’ve embedded it below in the hope that you will.

Please note: This film contains graphic images.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.