NEWTON, NJ (Sussex County) – Sussex County Board of County Commissioners Director Dawn Fantasia presented a “sample” of an anti-hate resolution during Wednesday night’s meeting.
The resolution sample was sparked by what she called “significant communication from the public,” asking that the board pass an anti-hate resolution, after members of the public approached the Commissioners at the Jan. 27 meeting with a resolution sample of their own. Members of the public who contacted Fantasia about the public’s Jan. 27 draft resolution critiqued it for its lack of inclusivity of all hate groups and instead, considered it too “narrow.”
During Wednesday’s new business portion of the meeting, Fantasia presented what she had begun to draft based on feedback she had received from many county residents after the Jan. 27 meeting. Fantasia read what she wrote into the record, with Commissioners and members of the public commenting on it during appropriate segments of the meeting.
Fantasia called the draft “inclusive of hate of all kinds” that “covers quite a lot of ground,” including Federal Bureau of Investigation definitions of hate crimes and various instances of hate-driven events. Many individuals commented to Fantasia and the other commissioners, she said, that the resolution draft originally presented to the Board on Jan. 27, was inadequate and not inclusive enough of hate groups that have taken center stage in the last year especially, terrorizing individuals and communities both countywide and nationwide.
“The word ‘hate’ is a deeply subjective term influenced by any number of cultural, socioeconomic, religious, and family influences,” part of Fantasia’s sample draft read.
“I understand individuals having the need for specific groups to be called out,” Fantasia said during the meeting, referring to the one extreme with violent demonstrations from white supremacist groups, as well as the other with attacks the country has witnessed from ANTIFA riots in Portland and Washington D.C., following the inauguration of President Joe Biden.
“Some of these things are absolutely outrageous and deplorable and of course, no sane individual in their right mind would ever support something like that and I certainly would denounce that, but the need to name each and every group seemed very prevalent,” Fantasia said about the feedback she had received on the Jan. 27 resolution draft.
Among what Fantasia described was “a fair amount of emails and calls” on the topic, residents asked the Commissioners why they would limit the language in a resolution to one segment of hate groups, many coming to Fantasia to complain about the lack of inclusivity, open-mindedness and objectivity on the Jan. 27 draft. Some members of the public asked her why, for example, after former Commissioner Joshua Hertzberg had condemned the riots within cities over the summer of 2020 and the Commissioners condemned the events at the Capitol on Jan. 6 in public statements, they had not crafted accompanying resolutions.
Residents also asked for anti-hate resolutions after the arrests of three individuals who fired approximately 10 gunshots at the home of Sheriff Michael Strada, while he, his wife and children were in the home, with those individuals having also spray-painted “BLM” on a sign outside of their home and on the street. Other residents questioned why no anti-hate resolution was additionally drafted after anti-police and anti-President Donald Trump profanities were spray-painted onto a billboard for Space Farms, the business owned by the family of New Jersey Assemblyman Parker Space, R-24th Dist.
“If you’re going to do that you should encompass any and all hate that we’ve witnessed here in Sussex County,” Fantasia said members of the public who contacted her recommended.
“I don’t think it could be written any better,” County Commissioner Chris Carney commented about the document, who took his oath on Tuesday to fill Hertzberg’s unexpired term, after Hertzberg was elected to serve on the Sparta Township Council. “I think it hits every hate that there can be.”
Commissioner Deputy Director Anthony Fasano thanked the many residents “who reached out with diverse opinions and I appreciate all of them,” he said. “I look forward to discussing this at subsequent meetings.”
“I view the concept of hate to be subjective, perspective-driven and without question a cancer on our collective ability to share this nation and to make it better for the generations looking up to us to do that,” Fasano said. “And the idea of bias against a certain race, religion, disability, orientation, ethnicity or gender, it is just wrong in each and every way, from each and every angle and lens.”
“In this great nation of ours and this great county of ours, we must all absolutely condemn, in the strongest and most absolute terms, any hate or any crimes of hate, because of the debilitating effect it has on a nation that is united in being free,” Fasano said
“The best way to be anti-hate is to be aggressively pro-respect, which is more powerful than hate, more effective than hate, more unifying than hate and a proven killer of hate, in which its beauty is the simple fact that the only way to receive it, is to give it,” Fasano said.
County Commissioner Herbert Yardley said he looked forward to reading it more indepth before the next meeting. After the lengthy public portion of more than 20 speakers, he described the events at the meeting “an interesting night.” Yardley thanked everyone for their comments, which he said he would review as the Commissioners proceeded on a more refined, anti-hate resolution.
County Commissioner Sylvia Petillo said it was the first time she had seen Fantasia’s sample draft and wanted more time to review it. However, following the public portion, Petillo shared some personal details about her life to explain that she has received unwarranted attacks from particular members of the public, some calling her a “racist” because her ideas differ from theirs.
Petillo spoke from experience as a survivor of the Newark riots that took place in 1967, the city where her family was from and where she grew up.
“I saw what that type of hatred can do to a city,” Petillo said, with some sections of the city still scarred and empty more than 50 years later after buildings were torched.
Petillo referred to the hatred in the streets and the schools following the 1967 riots as so severe, that it made it uncomfortable for everyone in the city. To counter it, the Newark community formed alliances to open discussions and solve problems, which remain in place today.
Petillo said, “she was proud of Newark’s residents who, when more than 12,000 participated in peaceful protests this summer, were able to stand together and fend off violent outsiders attempting to shatter that peace, because of these strong alliances formed in 1967.”
After explaining her history, Petillo said she has taken exception to some members of the public who have thrown the term “racist” at her, because of her stance on particular issues, such as being against recreational marijuana and being pro-life.
“That word [racist] is thrown around so much today,” Petillo said. “And the real depth of that meaning and the ugliness of that word is losing its strength. Not everyone is racist because they disagree with you on an issue.”
Racism comes from the heart,” Petillo said. “It’s a hatred that builds. I lived in it, I saw it, it was horrible. I don’t ever want to live through that again. I don’t ever want anyone – I don’t care their color, race, I don’t care who they are – I don’t ever want anyone to suffer like what happened in that city.”
She said many people in the white community suffered with their black friends because they loved them and it was difficult watching their homes and jobs destroyed during those 1967 riots, with gunfire and the sounds of military tanks commonplace. After the riots, Petillo said her father – who owned several small stores in Newark – converted his shops into apartments to accommodate people who lost their homes. Petillo, who taught in the public schools, witnessed the harm the persistent violence caused in the lives of her students. She assisted individuals fighting drug addiction and was also assaulted as she rushed to the aid of one Newark resident she knew.
“I’ve been raised by a family who gives and cares, so when you call me a racist, I’m going to tell you something, it pierces right through my heart,” Petillo said. “I don’t come from a place of superiority, I don’t see my whiteness as a privilege, what I have, I offer to others, if I can help.”
“I’m concerned about human services and I’m concerned about all of these different issues that I speak about because I have a heart for that,” Petillo said. “So, when you call me a racist, it’s really upsetting to me. I don’t believe in hatred in any form, I would stand up for anybody, if someone was calling them a name or hurting them in any manner, even if it meant to risk my own life.”
Petillo offered the opportunity to organize a coalition within Sussex County, similar to the Newark model, to begin a discussion about these issues. After one member of the public addressed the anger that the country’s children are feeling about racism, Petillo called it a problem “on all of us,” whether Republican or Democrat.
“If you really want to have a conversation, I’m open to that,” Petillo said. “What I’m not open to is insults thrown at people because some of us may not think the way you think. It doesn’t mean we’re racist.”
To listen to the full audio from Wednesday’s meeting, click here.