This morning, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo called on New Yorkers to unite in the fight for tolerance and justice while at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. The Governor’s remarks as delivered are below; video and photos of the event, and additional information on the Governor’s announcements will follow.
Thank you, thank you very much. It is an honor to be here this morning. I would have made a couple of comments on the Reverend’s introduction, but I don’t want any trouble with the Reverend, especially here, especially now. I don’t remember anyone re-summoning him to Washington. I don’t think anyone summons Reverend Butts anywhere. I think he has one boss and he’s not in this place and he’ll meet him sometime in the future.
Reverend Butts is a tremendous asset for this state. You know his great contribution as a pastor. You know he is also the President of SUNY Westbury. He is a community activist, a community developer but I think he has even more to offer this state and this community.
It’s my honor to be here at the Great Abyssinian Baptist Church and to be joined by some distinguished guests. We have the great Congressman – the Lion of Lenox Avenue, Charles Rangel. We have the Lioness for justice – Councilwoman Inez Dickens is here with us. We have Alma Rangel who has been such a great citizen and great supporter for so many years. And we have Mrs. Portia Paterson who is the wife of a distinguished – what a distinguished public servant, Basil Paterson, and she is the mother of David Paterson.
I come to you this morning with a heavy heart. The ugly political discourse of the election did not end on Election Day, in many ways it has gotten worse, into a social crisis that now challenges our identity as a state and as a nation and our people.
It goes beyond politics: it questions our American character – who we are and what we believe.
The answers by some, makes me soul sick for the America that I know and I love.
Now I am not alone. There are many who are soul sick for their America. There are young and old who feel alienated, disrespected and confused by what they hear.
We can now begin to understand what the Old Testament meant, when it said, “They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind.”
We are in a whirlwind of hate and division all across this country. Black freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania found messages on their phones including images of lynchings and racial slurs. The day after the election someone painted racist messages on walls in Durham, North Carolina: “Black lives don’t matter, and neither do your votes.”
During the week after the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that there were 437 incidents of intimidation targeting blacks and people of color, as well as Muslims, immigrants, women and members of the LGBT community.
I wish I could say our beautiful state of New York was immune from this poison but it’s not. Fliers promoting the KKK were found on parked cars in Patchogue, Long Island. A swastika was discovered on the B Train in Manhattan.
In Wellsville, outside of Buffalo, someone painted a swastika surrounded by the words “Make America White Again.”
The fact is this – if you sow fear, you reap hysteria. If you sow divisiveness, you reap anarchy and we are seeing that today. We have seen this act before. The race massacre in Tulsa in 1921. The Palmer Raids and mass deportation of immigrants in the Twenties. The internment of Japanese citizens during World War II. The Red Scare of the 1950s.
This election season vented and fostered people’s anger and no doubt that the anger is real and it comes with good cause. From an economy that works for the few at the expense of the many. For 30 years we have been watching income inequality get worse and worse and worse and a middle class that is shrinking into poverty. There has been technological change that has eliminated millions of jobs and destroyed lives, families and entire communities. You go to upstate New York and you see towns that had a factory and that factory moved away and that town has been left without an economy since then.
Compounding all of this, is the feeling that the government. The last refuge of individual protection – the government –is now responsive to powerful interests that make large donations – that our government is now their government, and that we are not one of them.
This fear and this anger – misdirected – seeks an enemy– it seeks a target and that target has become people who we see as different than ourselves – people who look different, who have a different skin color, a different religion, a different sexuality and they have become a target for this anger
But demonizing our differences injects a social poison into the fabric of our nation. Especially this country, because this is a nation built on differences. This country is not founded on one race, or once religion, or one custom. This nation is founded on one ideal and one compact. And that compact has been agreed to by many races and cultures. The demonization of differences erodes our democracy at its core and attacks the foundation of our nation.
New York State, in many ways, embodies the American ideal. We are the laboratory of the American experiment in democracy. New York is the welcome mat to the world. Ellis Island is where generations signed the American compact. The Statue of Liberty stands in our harbor and New Yorkers hold the torch, and today, that torch must be held higher and that torch must shine brighter than ever before.
New York has a special responsibility. We have always been the progressive capital of this country. We have always been the social conscience. We know what it is to stand up and remind this country what it means to be an American. That our core American belief is that we are one nation, under God, indivisible, where there is liberty and justice for all.
That what makes this country special on the globe is that we afford religious freedom to all individuals and we discriminate against none. The nation’s motto is “E pluribus unum” – out of many, one. That is the American rule, period. And therefore if you love this county, if you are an American, then you must act like one and these acts of division are the exact opposite of what America stands for.
The divisiveness must stop and New Yorkers will not be bystanders to injustice. That is not the New York way. We will fight sexism and racism and bigotry wherever we see it.
We will stand up for the rights of immigrants because we believe our diversity is a strength, not a weakness.
If there is a move to deport immigrants then I say start with me. I am a son of immigrants. Son of Mario Cuomo, who is the son of Andrea Cuomo, a poor, Italian immigrant who came to this country without a job, without money, or resources and he was here only for the promise of America.
If we deport immigrants then I ask, “Who is safe and who will be left?” Because we are all immigrants. If we deport immigrants then the only ones left will be the Iroquois, the Sioux and the Cherokee and the Apache. Otherwise remember, we are all visitors to this great land.
New York’s message is a message of tolerance, brotherhood and unity. It is not a political message. It is not a Democratic or Republican message. It is not liberal or conservative; it is the Golden Rule that is the bedrock for faith for people around the world. Matthew in Ch. 22:36-40 tells us, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus replied: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
This is the first and the greatest commandment. And the second is like it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
All the law and prophets hang on these two commandments. In the Old Testament it was Leviticus who said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
This belief in loving thy neighbor, the Golden Rule, is repeated throughout the Koran by the prophet Muhammad, who said, “None of you has faith until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”
Long before the East and West met, Confucius wrote in 500 B.C., “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.”
Even the Sanskrit traditions of ancient India taught us, “Treat others as you would treat yourself.”
It is a timeless truth and these are the words that we need to take to heart at these dark times. These are the words that must guide us because they will heal us and bring us together. But it is not a time for words alone; it is also a time for action. And the action will start in New York.
We have to act and we have to act now. These words, this golden rule, these instructions, this mandate of unity and brotherhood, are not just from the Bible. It is also the law of the land. Hate crimes are not just sins, they are illegal. At this time of darkness, this state will bring light to illuminate the ignorance. To violate them is not just a sin. And New York will not allow the law to be violated.
We will enforce the law to the fullest extent. I am ordering the State Police to put together a special unit to address the explosion of hate crimes in our state. With trained professionals we will investigate every incident and prosecute the perpetrator to the fullest extent of the law.
The laws of New York will protect every citizen and every child. I will propose this January to expand the Human Rights Law, to specifically protect every child in every school, both public and private.
We will make sure every young person knows the law of our land, and I will be sending a letter to every college student explaining their rights and responsibilities as citizens of New York.
New York will also ensure that every person has legal protections, whether they can afford it or not. We will be putting together a public-private legal defense fund to provide immigrants who can’t afford their own defense, the legal assistance they need because in New York, we believe in justice for all.
At the same time, New York will work to address the underlying fear that is generating this in the first place. We must address the pervasive economic insecurity. We have to provide good jobs that pay a decent wage and restore the promise of economic mobility so people don’t feel they are stuck in place and that they have no future. We have to train displaced workers. People feel they are not getting their fair piece of the American pie – and they are not. But the answer is not to fight your neighbor for their piece of the pie – not to fight for the scraps left by the rich – the answer is to grow the economic pie for all.
New York still knows what America is supposed to be. And we must shout it from the mountain tops. We must provide guidance to this nation
We must stand up and say, “You spread fear and we will spread love.”
We will stand up and say, “You try pull us apart and we will stand stronger for each other.”
We will stand up and say, “Yes we are black, white and brown – but we are one.”
We will stand up and say, “We are gay and straight – but we are one as a community.”
We will stand up and say, “Yes we are Christian, Muslim and Jews – but we are one.”
We will say, “Yes we are individuals but we are also one community. One family.”
To stand up and say, “Yes we have our differences but our commonalities are stronger and there is a cord that connects each and every one of us. The cord may be invisible, but it is very real nonetheless. And the cord connects you to you and you to you and you to you. And that cord weaves a fabric – the fabric of community – and we will stand up and say, when one of us is raised that fabric of community raises us all and one of us is lowered, we are all lowered.”
We are here to share benefits and burdens. We are here to grow with one another and invest in one another. That is the way this made New York the greatest state in the country. We took different religions, different cultures and we said we will operate as a family. We don’t care the color of your skin or how much money is in your pocket. If you accept the American idea the New York way, we will work with you and grow with you. That is the American Dream that will grow this nation. The separation is a poison and it has to stop and it has to stop now and New York is going to lead the way in showing the way for positive growth. We remember what made this nation the greatest nation on this earth. We are going to keep that dream alive and we are going to fight to keep that dream alive and work to make it a reality for all of us.