If there is anything I've learned this weekend, it's that our silence is permission.
So I am not going to be silent, although I have been in the past. I've been silent when I've seen the looks that neighbors give other neighbors of color. I've stood, mouth agape, when a former landlord accused my black roommate of being a prowler in our building.
I've seen stickers on our lamp posts that promote white supremacy groups in our neighborhood. I've seen swastikas on picnic tables in McGolrick Park. I've seen people wearing jackets and sporting tattoos of white supremacy organizations.
It is suffice to say that hate is alive and well in our neighborhood.
I believe that most of our neighbors feel uncomfortable with this, but unless we actually say so, we are allowing it to continue.
Of course, as we learned this weekend, often those who are motivated by hate are really, deeply motivated by it.
This weekend in Charlottesville, the white supremacists were heavily armed. They had guns and they fired them. They assaulted strangers with bats and metal poles and sprayed mace in people's eyes. They sprayed urine on people.
This is truly dehumanizing people and making them fear for their lives. This is a way to bend people to your will and control them.
Turning our disappointments or personal fears onto other groups is unacceptable. Forgetting, or refusing to learn, our history of race problems in our neighborhood is unacceptable, and it's been here a long time.
In fact, Greenpoint Avenue was originally titled "Lincoln Avenue," as per the alphabetical grid of our neighborhood. However, it was changed because so many people in our community – Irish working class people, my ancestors – were upset about the Emancipation Proclamation and demanded the name be changed.
Let us take that as a symbol. The name of our community became a placeholder to disguise the name of Lincoln.
Today, we are seen as a Polish neighborhood. A friend described the nature of our neighborhood as one where "most of these families have living memories within our families of the fact that Nazis brutally occupied Poland and murdered millions of both Jewish and Christian Poles."
Swastikas hurt all of us. They are meant to intimidate, scare and control us, to suppress us and bend us to the will of a small group of people.
Swastikas are meant to scare and control people. It's a warning for those who are not of a particular profile that they are not welcome, that they are in danger.
This was the same reason why Confederate monuments were constructed during the Jim Crow period. They were to remind black people that they were not safe and they were not welcome.
I love New York City because there are all kinds of people here. I want them all here, I want them to thrive here, and I welcome them and I am ready to love them. I want to learn about different cultures and discover what we share.
I believe that the majority of this community stands in solidarity with me. I believe that most of us do not feel hatred in our heart, do not feel threatened by strangers to the point of feeling murderous, to the point of wanting people to feel fear.
I believe that the majority of Greenpointers feel upset and uncomfortable when they hear groups of Americans singled out as an enemy based on their religion, lifestyle choices or skin color.
But it doesn't matter if you oppose it if you don't acknowledge it. If you don't report symbols of hate, or if you don't tell your neighbor that racism is unacceptable. If we are going to look at our country, let's look at our neighborhood first.
My friend Laura who has lived in this neighborhood her whole life, told me, "There's a lot of [white supremacists] in Greenpoint. We've been trying to get folks to take it seriously for years. Every year the auto repair place on Dupont and McGuiness has to paint over swastikas.
“And there's been some on our building, too,” she continued. “Our super is of Polish decent and covers them right away. This can't catch our attention sometimes. It has to be something we notice always."
Let's move forward as a community. Let's work together to make a safe and welcoming place for all. Let's remember that most of us are loving and want everyone to have fulfilling, meaningful and safe lives.
We can't pretend it doesn't happen. It is happening and it's up to us who disagree with it to stand as strongly with our beliefs as those who hate stand with theirs.