It doesn’t seem that long ago we used this space to talk about the need to show some sense of decorum when it comes to public meetings.
Not that people shouldn’t have the right to express their disapproval — the First Amendment grants that right. But just like there’s a time and place to yell “Fire!” the same is true when it comes to simply showing a little respect to those who might share viewpoints that are different than ours.
What transpired at Monday’s land use committee is something all of us should be embarrassed about. And we understand — the Hebrew Home at Riverdale’s desire to expand into a continuing care retirement community is one that has many neighbors emotional, and this meeting would likely be the last time many in the public would be heard in a formal setting.
But hearing was something hard to do with the constant shout-outs, booing, hissing and chanting. One person who spoke in favor of the Hebrew Home expansion, 85-year-old Zelda Fassler, wrote a letter to the editor after our deadline this week upset she didn’t feel like her opinion, as a resident in this community, was welcomed.
“We can all agree to disagree, but have we lost all respect and dignity in how we treat one another?”
And that’s a good question. What does anyone, no matter what their position, accomplish by shouting down someone who might disagree with them? Is that something that will impress Community Board 8 members? Maybe it will sway Councilman Andrew Cohen? Some city officials were on-hand Monday — maybe they make decisions based on the number of people hissing?
They don’t. While it’s impressive to organize a group of people and bring them to a public meeting, it’s not the numbers that make a difference — it’s the message. Even if you have 200 people shouting and holding signs, those who are being asked to make a decision on the board are savvy enough to wonder where the other 99,800 people living and working and CB8 are on this issue.
And if the board is somehow swayed by the mob mentality, we can guarantee city and elected officials are not.
There are some very legitimate concerns being expressed about the Hebrew Home on both sides. But the substance of those concerns are being upstaged by these childish antics that do nothing except take away the voice of those who also want to be heard, including the very people who might actually agree with you.
Share your concerns, share your opinions. But also stop and listen to what your neighbor says.
As Martin Zelnik said Monday night, “Look to your left, look to your right.” Whether these people around you agree or disagree with you, it doesn’t matter. In the end, they’re still your neighbors, and we all have to do better when we come together.