Recent events in Charlottesville have caused pain and tragedy in our nation and in our community.
It was an organized group of racists who marched and murdered, and that is one of the most troubling aspects.
But organized bigotry and hate can be prevented, and that starts by recognizing that we are one community of Americans.
We can focus less on that which makes us different from each other and rather we can recall that which we have in common, for it is that commonality which unites us.
Hatred has always been within us. But we must not forget that love is also within us. If we as a community are to appeal to the better angels of our nature, then we as individuals must act on our nobler instincts.
To blame a politician or a mob for our decisions is to ignore the free will which we each possess. And in the exercise of that free will, we should not forget that we each on a daily basis struggle with the flaws in ourselves.
I have just been reading Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. Written during the depths of national discord, the speech remains one of the greatest ever written.
Lincoln does not shy away from the repugnant moral rot at the heart of our nation's creation. He tells us that even if the slaughter of war must continue till every drop of blood drawn by the bondsman's lash must be paid for with a drop of blood drawn by the sword in battle, then we as a people have brought this upon ourselves.
But in the very next and concluding sentence, Lincoln tells us that we must have malice toward none and charity towards all if we are to bind the nation's wounds and achieve a just and lasting peace among ourselves.
After 150 years, it is that last thought which inspires us today. We can bind up the wounds. We do not have to let hate win.
It is understandable and proper that we seek to hold accountable those who have perpetrated heinous acts of terror and murder. We are a nation of laws, and punishment is a part of our belief in the fundamental value of each member of our society. Punishment is necessary and justice must be done.
We should also remember that there is also a place for healing and for bringing out that light which is within even the most depraved member of our society. It is to that end that we, like Lincoln, look to a future which is different from the past.
We must not forget history; we must remember and learn from history.
Symbols which cause so much pain to so many of our fellow Americans are symbols of a past which warrants remembering with humility and solemn reflection.
Under the confederate flag, our fellow Americans were lynched. Under the nazi flag, millions of our fellow human beings were brutalized and thrown into the gas chambers.
Such symbols may be lawfully displayed, but the real question before us is whether it is moral to celebrate banners under which such unspeakable acts have been perpetrated against our fellow man.
Each of us must today look at our own conscience and answer that question.
For those of us who are parents, we have a special responsibility to guide our children as they find their moral compass. I as Mayor cannot do that, only each of you as parents can do that.
In our own time, we have seen firsthand the example of Nelson Mandela. If ever there was a justifiable reason to seek vengeance, Mandela had reason.
Yet when given the opportunity, Nelson Mandela invited his former racist captors to join with him and build a future together free of the apartheid history which had caused so much suffering.
He was harshly criticized for this, but he replied that "People will feel I see too much good in people.... whether it is so or not, it is something which I think is profitable. It's a good thing to assume, to act on the basis that... others are men of integrity and honor... because you tend to attract integrity and honor if that is how you regard those with whom you work."
Lincoln and Mandela were exceptional human beings. But each of us can aspire to be better than we are, and together we can create a community and a nation of which our children and grandchildren can be proud.
We can build that future, starting today and starting in Croton. Speak to your children, and speak to your neighbors, with tolerance and love. Let us each be an example to our family and our community.
Dr. Gregory Schmidt
Mayor, Village of Croton-on-Hudson