Crowd rebukes hate speech in village

CHATHAM—A diverse crowd of approximately 100 braved wind and mid-30s temperatures to denounce hate at an outdoor rally at the Village Green Wednesday, January 19. The crowd—elderly and young, Black and white, some with dogs, some using canes for support and nearly all masked—gathered along Main Street/state Route 66 by the gazebo.

They carried signs and banners proclaiming: “Reject Racism,” “Black Lives Matter,” “I Stand With John Lewis,” “Chatham Says No To Hate,” “Hate Has No Home Here,” “Stop Racism Speak Up,” “All Beings All Colors All Kin,” “Hate Is a Disease Love Is the Vaccine.”

Several passing vehicles honked in support.

Speakers included the Reverend Kim Singletary of Hudson, founder of Africa’s Daughters of the Diaspora and a county activist for Human Rights. She told of being bused to integrate Bensonhurst, Brooklyn public schools. Rev. Singletary also  told of a conversation with a Chatham banker six years ago, who said that Rev. Singletary must be glad to have moved here because there was no racism in Chatham.

She exhorted the crowd to help stop the generations of racism and to fight the falsehoods of white supremacy.

Pastor Linda Van Alstyne offered a benediction and the crowd sang the Civil Rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.”

Hate Watch Report Founder Michael Richardson organized the rally and Sam Hodge, chair of Columbia County Democrats, reached out to groups and individuals to attend. The rally was in response to a White Lives Matter (WLM) action at the Village Green, Friday, January 14.

Residents filled the village green in front the gazebo off of Main Street and Park Row in the Village of Chatham on Wednesday, January 19 at noon, for a “No Hate Here” gathering. Photo by Emilia Teasdale

In a telephone interview, Mr. Hodge stated the purpose of the rally, saying, “We must say loud and clear white supremacists and neo Nazis don’t have a place here.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center lists White Lives Matter as a hate group.

Mr. Hodge said that Mr. Richardson forwarded pictures of the heavily masked trio, wearing skulls imagery on their face coverings, brandishing a banner with the organization’s website. Mr. Hodge’s initial reaction was “disbelief.”

Last year WLM limited its propaganda efforts in the upper Hudson Valley to anonymous sticker postings in public places. Stickers have been reported to authorities in Hudson and Valatie, a state site managed by the Department of Environmental Conservation, and most recently in North Greenbush.

Mr. Richardson described the sticker campaign as a “recruitment strategy to gauge interest.” Last Friday’s banner display marked a more public outing.

According to the 2020 Census, African Americans, Asian and Latinos make up less than 6% of the village population.

Why the Village of Chatham? The question was posed to Mayor John Howe, to village Trustee and Police Commissioner Peter Minahan, and to organizer Mr. Hodge.

“Puzzling,” said Mayor Howe, who witnessed last Friday’s action.

“I have no idea why they picked our village. We would love to know the answer to that,” Trustee Minahan said in an email.

Mr. Hodge said “a lot of people” would see the signs and that “would spark outrage.”

Scores of people did so at Wednesday’s gathering.

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