Yesterday members of area churches and other civic organizations gathered in downtown Cleveland to add a united voice to the growing movement against hate and hate crimes. The "Stop the Hate" Breakfast was a response not just to heinous, highly publicized crimes such as the murders of James Byrd - a black man - in Texas, and Matthew Sheppard - a gay man - in Wyoming. It also was aimed at addressing hate speech such as that painted on a building on Cleveland's east side. 90.3's Bill Rice reports.
Bill Rice- Local Jewish activists are frustrated over so-far failed efforts to have an anti-semitic mural painted over. The mural appears on the front of an East 55th Street Car Wash. One drawing depicts a jew with satanic characteristics - fangs and pointed ears - squeezing blood from the North American continent, with the caption "Jews appreciate nothing and expect everything." The owner of the car wash - Brahim "Abe" Ayad, of North Olmstead, says he knows the mural is offensive to jews. But he says he's offended by jews.
Brahim Ayad- They make fun of the world, on TV and in movies, they make fun of the world. But one punk-ass sign has them all riled up while they are slaughtering children! I don't understand it and I won't understand it, and I wont paint over it.
BR- Joel Ratner of the Anti-Defamation League Office here in Cleveland, says such blatantly hateful speech is destructive to society, and has asked Ayad numerous times to remove the mural. The ADL is a national group that works to quell hate and intolerance.
Joel Ratner- And as we see in the case of the mural even one person who holds really offensive views and decides to publicize them can really harm the fabric of the community.
BR- At yesterday's "Stop the Hate" breakfast held at the Cuyahoga County Courthouse, several speakers denounced all hate speech and hate crime as destructive and unacceptable. Leslie Stasovin of Strongsville read this poem, written by her gay son, now deceased.
Leslie Stasovin- "I hope you will remember me, I will remember you. I wonder if you see that I must leave. I just cannot stay, I did not want it that way. So I will leave. I will leave you behind, along with the rest of my life." These words are from a poem my gay son Robbie wrote.... "
BR- Robbie Kirkland committed suicide at the age of fifteen. Stasovin says he couldn't handle the intolerance toward his sexual orientation.
LS- You have to picture yourself as someone who is gay. You're not reflected in our society, it's a very heterosexual world. Growing up being teased, called faggot, queer, you know, that being gay is, like, the worst thing you can be.
BR- Stasovin says Robbie knew he was gay since he was ten, and came out to his family about fifteen months before taking his life. The family was supportive. They placed him in therapy, thinking that he would come to terms with his sexuality. It was only after his death that they discovered the extent of his torment.
LS- We spoke with his friends, who told us different stories, and classmates, and we were just shocked by the incidents that happened and the homophobia. Letters that he wrote to a close friend at camp, she shared those with us after his death, and it was just so painful to realize all the years that he suffered in silence.
BR- Stasovin says Robbie's catholic faith and it's doctrine against homosexuality was also a factor in his death. While Robbie Kirkland may not have been the target of a hate crime per se, Stasovin says he was a victim of intolerance. And that's what the interfaith effort aims to eliminate, according to Father Joseph Hilinski, Interfaith Director for the Catholic Diocese in Cleveland, and a speaker at the "Stop the Hate" Breakfast. Hilinski says while the church teaches certain strict moral standards, he encourages tolerance of those who are different.
Joseph Hilinski- We have to respect each person's dignity, whatever their race, whatever their sexual orientation, whatever their religious backgrounds - and work to overcome misunderstandings, share and witness whatever we feel but not in a way that is going to threaten their physical safety or their psychological welfare in our society.
BR- There is hope for kids like Robbie Kirkland. Joel Ratner of the anti-defamation league, says his group's World of Difference program to encourages teachers and students to embrace diversity is getting into more schools. As for the mural on E. 55th Street, Ratner says they'll continue to work toward its removal. He says the ADL will not launch a public demonstration at the site, as the Jewish Defense League has suggested it may do. Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.