Sussex County Grapples with Hate

The Sussex County Freeholder Board.

Sussex County has had a devil of a time trying to deal with hate.

It started innocently enough – assuming anything about the nation’s partisan divide can be innocent – in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection when a Vernon resident asked the county commissioners to officially condemn white supremacy.

Such resolutions have been common since Jan. 6, but with one caveat – they’re more likely to be passed by Democratic-controlled governing bodies than Republican ones.  Democrats surely like the idea of simultaneously condemning the insurrection and Donald Trump supporters.

The Sussex board, however, is all-Republican, so you see the problem.

Rather than consider the seemingly simple resolution, the commissioners broadened it to include all “hate crimes.” The result was a resolution that looked like something out of a Saturday Night Live skit.  Short of perhaps Attila the Hun, the resolution specifically cited a series of genocidal events throughout world history, including the Holocaust, Pol Pot exterminations in Cambodia, the Stalin-imposed starvation in Ukraine, ethnic conflicts in Rwanda and elsewhere and the “troubles” in Northern Ireland.

Sure, from a  global perspective, if Sussex County wants to formally denounce the Ottoman genocide in Armenia (that was on the list too) all well and good. But that really wasn’t what the proposal was about. The original idea centered around an event that happened just two months ago in the United States.

At any rate, that expanded resolution was tabled in February.

At Wednesday night’s meeting, a completely different resolution appeared on the agenda.

Dawn Fantasia, the board director, explained that commissioners wanted to eschew blaming anyone and move in a positive direction. So a “pro-respect” resolution was created.

It began by saying that Sussex is an “excellent place to live, work and visit.” Later, it paid homage to, of all things, a slightly rewritten Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration famously speaks of “all men” being created equal. But the resolution says that “all men and women are created equal,” attributing that verbiage to the Declaration. You have to admire the creativity.

The resolution also pledged to incorporate respect into the county’s mission because “respect will always defeat hate.”

Those who wanted the original resolution were not pleased. This was a Zoom meeting, so all public comments were over the phone or a computer.

At varying times, the “respect” resolution was called “apple pie,” “wimpy,” and something that would have been OK if Jan. 6 never happened.

Supporters of the resolution argued that no matter what a government statement says, “hate” and “prejudice” will remain. Only individuals can combat it and that must be done by treating all with dignity and –  here’s that word again – “respect.”

The commissioners then unanimously adopted the respect resolution.

Some also commented that the board had spent far too much time – at least three meetings – on this topic. They may have had a point, given the fact such resolutions are largely symbolic.

Then again, one can not ignore some ugly Sussex County incidents in the not too recent past – like Swastikas and other anti-Jewish symbols appearing on a diner in Wantage and a home in Hampton.

Which brings us back to the start.

Katie Rotondi, a former chair of the Sussex Democrats, observed during a long and spirited public session that specifically denouncing white supremacy should not be difficult.

Sometimes it is.

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