One Just Ridgefield promotes civility, examines hate speech

What are the motivations behind hate speech and why do people use it?

Those were the questions a group of 40 residents — town officials, community and business leaders, school principals, students, and Ridgefield Clergy Association members — tried to answer during a meeting at Jesse Lee’s Carriage House on April 4, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

“We’d all like to see hateful speech go away, but we can’t just cover over it and pretend it doesn’t exist,” explained Jesse Lee Pastor Bill Pfohl, who helped rally the One Just Ridgefield group together.

“It’s like Dr. King said, “Like a boil that must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed to the light of human conscience before it can be cured.’”

Members of the Connecticut Center for Nonviolence made a presentation to the group, which included First Selectman Rudy Marconi, Ridgefield High School Principal Stacey Gross, and police Chief John Roche, and talked about the six principles of Kingian Nonviolence.

“We’re not sure a gathering like this has ever happened,” said Pfohl, who credited both the private and public schools in town for making it possible on a Wednesday afternoon. “This is the way to make our community foundationally better.”

Pfohl said the goal of the group is more than just tolerance.

“We want to promote justice and civility, but more significantly, we want to encourage everyone to look at life from another perspective,” he said. “That’s why when we gave our introductions, we had other people speak about the person next to them. It’s all about a sense of humility and walking in other people’s shoes. … We want to understand where hate speech comes from and what it’s about. That’s the best way to address it and, ultimately, cure it.”