It is time to deliver on the promise of America | Opinion

Posted Apr 04, 2021

By Kevin J. O’Toole

Kevin J. O’Toole, chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey says these past 12 months have been difficult. "There is so much hate."

When my children were born a generation ago, I envisioned they would grow up in a better world than I had. It is a universal hope of parents that the societal failures of the past will be corrected before their children experience discrimination and potentially, hate-fueled violence. Sadly, my children have not inherited such a world.

This month, in Atlanta, eight individuals were murdered, including six Asian American women. While the motive for the most recent mass shooting in America is still unclear, there is no ambiguity that six of the victims were Asian American. Nor is there any ambiguity that crimes against Asian Americans and members of the Pacific Islander community are on the rise.

If COVID-19 was not enough of an insidious disease spreading literally from mouth to mouth, we have racial hatred spreading in the same way. These past 12 months have been difficult.

Difficult for Asian Americans as some of the highest elected officials in the nation, as well as some pundits, chose to scapegoat them for the virus and its spread.

Difficult for persons of color following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis as demonstrations and protests spread across the nation.

Difficult, in short, for all good people of conscience who envision what I envision for my children – a better America.

In New Jersey, according to data compiled by the State Police, recorded overall bias incidents increased 45% in 2020 compared to 2019. The statistics for Asians and Pacific Islanders are more disturbing: an 82% increase in bias incidents from 2019.

The promise of America is often equated with Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill.” The reference originally from Scripture, took life in 1630 New England in a sermon by John Winthrop, who said “we shall be a city upon a hill.”

He said, “we shall” not “we are.” It was a challenge made almost 500 years ago on these shores, a challenge it is time that we both accept and meet.

More than a half-century ago, my father a U.S. G.I. serving in Korea met my mother. They fell in love. They married.

They married at a time when that marriage was not recognized as legal in every state in the Union. They saw a better world, the same better world I saw for my children.

I have been fortunate to have had a successful career in politics and public service. But I have felt the sting of racism. As an example, in a 2007 campaign, an ugly mailer tried to play the “race card,” falsely stating I received favored treatment in redistricting because I was Korean American. Attacks on my ethnicity were not limited to one campaign.

Politics is not for the faint of heart; sharp elbows are part of the game. But race-baiting is not part of the game. It is a violation of all that is decent.

As chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, I have two responsibilities: One to the public, to ensure they are safe as they move through Port Authority facilities and use PATH. The second responsibility is to Port Authority employees, to ensure they are safe.

Recent reports of Asian American Port Authority employees being taunted and harassed as they come off shifts are disturbing and frightening to me personally, as the chairman and as a Korean American.

On March 26, there was an incident near the Midtown Bus Terminal where a man was suspected of menacing and harassing an Asian American woman. Port Authority Police responded and, working with the New York Police Department, were able to locate and apprehend the individual.

The news is too full of situations with worse outcomes. There is so much hate.

Against Asians and members of the Pacific Islander community.

Against Blacks and persons of color.

Against Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent.

Against members of the LGBTQ community.

It seems too much for any single individual to stop. Yet, I am reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”

All of us need to stand up to hate, to injustice when we see it.

The challenges of this past year – more than 500,000 Americans dead from COVID-19 — should bring us together. There are no racial divisions between graves, only the markers that denote this was a person. It should not take that for us to see our shared humanity.

As a Korean American, I am proud of my heritage. I want my children to have that same pride. And I want one day to see my grandchildren come into a world that no longer talks of the promise of America but one where that promise is reality.


Kevin J. O’Toole is the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-04-05 02:24:36 -0700