SOMETHING VERY WRONG happened in Hudson late last week, and something very right. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to keep score, but in this case I find the temptation to assess winners and losers irresistible and maybe instructive too.
The biggest losers in all senses of the word are the three young men arrested last week for painting an ugly slur — it’s hard to define — on the wall of the mosque on North Third Street. They looked pathetic as police guided them into court, like teens caught doing something more foolish than criminal. They’ve been charged with hate crimes, and yet they could be innocent.
But this wasn’t a harmless prank. Whoever wrote the hateful words meant for them to be seen by the people who worship at the mosque. The graffiti was next to the doorway, unavoidably visible to all who entered, spray painted in red on white siding. What they wrote and where they wrote it means the perpetrators had a target in mind: the Muslim community in Hudson.
In that sense, we all suffered a loss. If anybody thought so before, no one now believes that people consumed by bigotry and hatred live somewhere else. This incident in Hudson happened just as national attention was hijacked by a small-time huckster in Florida, who discovered he could leverage the Nazi tactic of burning books for personal attention. It’s a unfair to imply any direct a connection between the actions of Terry Jones, the Gainesville, Fla., pastor, who threatened to burn copies of the Quran on 9/11, and the incident in Hudson, but certainly whoever committed the hate crime here had to have heard about Jones and his reprehensible though legal plan. And if your mind is already poisoned by hate, how much encouragement does it take to act out those twisted emotions by defacing a mosque?
That’s the sad part of this story. Then there’s the reaction. Whatever motivated the Hudson spray-paint bigots, those creepy people really got their timing wrong. Mr. Jones’ transparent exploitation of his Quran stunt coupled with the debate over the proposed Islamic community center near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan has raised public sensitivity about religious and ethnic prejudice. And while it’s probably fair to say that people who deface houses of worship don’t spend much time worrying about the consequences of their actions, exactly how dumb did they have to be to think no one but their intended targets would know or care what they’d done?
Don’t bother answering that question. Instead, look at the photos of Hudson Mayor Rick Scalera, a lifelong city resident, helping scrub the hateful words off the side of the mosque. Assess the police by how seriously they have taken this case and the speed with which they arrested and charged apparently plausible suspects. Look at the high bail set for the young men, rightly or not, a measure of the severity with which judges view a crime. Consider the response of Councilman Abdus Miah, a Muslim and a member of Bangladeshi-American community in the city, who joined with other members of the city Common Council this week in praising the response of police and the community at large.
Hudson gets a bad rap often enough. Some folks who live in other parts of the county say they prefer not to go there. They shrug and say they can find arts, entertainment, architecture, history, good food, whatever, somewhere else. They know, or sense, that Hudson is the poorest municipality in the county in terms of household income. So what if it has fewer residents than the Town of Kinderhook and the best, safest access in the county to the Hudson River waterfront; the image they have is of an urban island in a rural county.
You can’t talk people out of prejudice like that. But you can remind them when the facts don’t match their preconceived bias. What happened after a hateful person or group defaced the city’s mosque is one such case. The city reacted quickly but with restraint. Nobody thought twice before doing his or her job. Nobody has tried to commandeer the outrage for some other agenda.
If you want to know something about Hudson, look at what happened there last week. This is a diverse and thriving community; it’s a city with a conscience and a heart.