Things should work differently in mature communities. It should be that if a hate group tries to spread its racist message, it would be met by a peaceful but determined group of protesters, many of them white, to let the racists know they aren't welcome there.
That doesn't seem to be happening now in Lovejoy, and that's one of the saddest aspects of the harassment being visited on the African-American family of Ann Cooper. The family moved to Benzinger Street three months ago amid warnings from friends that they might not be welcome in that neighborhood. Now, the family has moved again -- not because she is frightened for herself, Cooper said, but to protect her children.
Some white residents say the racial climate in the neighborhood has changed for the better, but you wouldn't know it by Cooper's experience. Racial slurs have been hurled at them. A baseball bat, chunks of brick and a hockey puck came crashing through a window on Tuesday, followed by carloads of whites driving by and demanding to know if the "cotton-pickers" inside the house were "cold" because of the shattered windows. Another brick was thrown Friday.
Police are investigating, but only after first satisfying themselves that the large number of family members who live at Cooper's house wasn't a gang. Why, Common Council President Richard Fontana, himself, checked it out. Nope. Not a gang. Just a group of humans trying to live their lives.
Three people have been arrested so far, all of them teenagers, a demographic not always known for its good judgment. Some Lovejoy residents blame the Cooper family for provoking the harassment. But racial conflict is tinder and when it shows itself -- even from adolescents -- leaders need to respond forcefully.
It would be best if that response came directly from the community. But if that isn't going to happen, then people like Fontana, who represents the district, need to take a leading role. So do Mayor Byron W. Brown and other community leaders. The surest way to encourage vile behavior like that shown against the Coopers is for it to be met by silence. It's the everyday incarnation of Edmund Burke's warning: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
It's not just Lovejoy. On Mackinaw Street in the Old First Ward last year, two fires were set in a house where a refugee from the Congo had moved. Prosecutors are trying to determine if it was a hate crime.
Racism is a hard nut to crack. Recent census studies show the Buffalo Niagara region to be between the sixth- and 11th-most segregated area of the country. Perhaps it is not surprising that change comes slowly to the City of Good Neighbors, also the nation's third-poorest city.
But that argues for more leadership, not less. It will be instructive to see, over the coming days and weeks, who steps up and, just as importantly, who doesn't.