OPINION: Disrespectful leaders have encouraged disrespect among our citizenry

Two and a half years ago, Scott Levin wrote for Denverite about what he had learned about respect and leadership. He’s back with an update.

Anti-Defamation League Mountain States regional director Scott L. Levin  speaks at a vigil held for the victims of the shooting at Tree of Light Synagogue in Pittsburgh, held at Temple Emanuel in Denver. Oct. 28, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Anti-Defamation League Mountain States regional director Scott L. Levin speaks at a vigil held for the victims of the shooting at Tree of Light Synagogue in Pittsburgh, held at Temple Emanuel in Denver. Oct. 28, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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By Scott Levin, for Denverite

Two and a half years ago, I wrote for Denverite about what I had learned during the prior year. It was before the 2016 presidential election, but the campaigns were in full swing. I wrote that I had learned how important it is for us to have respect for one another, our country and its institutions. I noted that I had learned that disrespectful leaders encourage disrespect amongst citizens, but that standing up for one another makes a difference.

Today, I know these lessons to still be true.

Unfortunately, these lessons have not all been learned. The past two years have been filled with a lack of respect. And disrespectful leaders have encouraged disrespect among our citizenry. While there have always be anti-Semites, racists, xenophobes, misogynists and other haters, over the past two and a half years, they seem to have become emboldened and given permission to speak and act on their ugly beliefs.

Since the Pulse Nightclub massacre two and half years ago, I have been to far too many vigils and rallies decrying the attacks against the LGBTQ community, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, women, victims of gun violence and others. As an Anti-Defamation League Regional Director, I am mindful of our long-standing mission to not only fight anti-Semitism, but also to secure justice and fair treatment to all. As a result, I know how important it is to stand up for others. I just never thought that my community would need others to stand up for us.

Tragically, this past Saturday, on the Jewish Sabbath, a white supremacist entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 innocent people. Any question about whether the ancient disease of anti-Semitism still exists was unequivocally answered in the affirmative. This horrific event shook up Jewish communities across our country. Here in Colorado, anti-Semitic incidents have been on a disturbing rise. In 2014, ADL tracked 10 anti-Semitic incidents, which rose to 18 in 2015, 45 in 2016 and 57 in 2017. And in 2018, we have seen a dramatic increase in white supremacist activity in Colorado, with nearly 50 incidents of leafleting, putting up posters and hanging banners from overpasses with disgusting messages about “white genocide” and exclusionary pride in members of the white race.

Within hours of the shootings, I began work on a community vigil that took place on Sunday night. I invited Gov. John Hickenlooper and Mayor Michael B. Hancock to represent support from our government; Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen and Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz to represent support from the law enforcement community; and for support from different interfaith communities, Rev. Amanda Henderson of the Christian community, Qusair Mohamedbhai of the Muslim community, and Dilpreet Jammu of the Sikh community. These wonderful speakers joined me, Rabbi Joe Black, Senior Rabbi of Temple Emanuel, and Rabbi Solomon Gruenwald, President of the Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council and a rabbi at the Hebrew Educational Alliance, in providing support to the Jewish community and all who believe the right to religious freedom can only be exercised if it is free from fear of harm.

Nov. 9 to 10 this year will mark the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht. As a Jew, I am acutely aware that on this night in 1938, the floodgates were opened for what became known as the Holocaust, as Nazi thugs attacked Jews and destroyed Jewish businesses, homes and hospitals. So many windows were broken that night that it became known as the Night of Broken Glass.

One of the defining characteristics of Kristallnacht is that the attacks and destruction were unchallenged by the German government, law enforcement, clergy and neighbors. Disrespectful leaders encouraged disrespect amongst citizens that ultimately ended in genocide. Sunday night, over 3,000 people in Denver proved the value of the lesson to stand up for one another. They came together to provide support to their Jewish neighbors, and these representatives of government, law enforcement, different religions and neighbors made clear that the horror that began with Kristallnacht and the horror that occurred in Pittsburgh will not stand.

Watch Scott’s speech from the vigil at Temple Emanuel:


After a nearly 30-year career as a successful trial attorney in Denver, Scott Levin retired from the active practice of law in 2010 to become the Director of the Mountain States Region of the Anti-Defamation League.