After a months-long dispute between neighboring businesses raised tensions in West Stockbridge, they appeared to be easing in recent days thanks to a sensible compromise brokered by local officials. Unfortunately, a cowardly act of hate during this week’s Select Board meeting has once again put this community on edge.
Not more than a week after a special permit hearing gave The Foundry and Truc Orient Express a path to emerge from the controversy of a protracted spat over noise and traffic access, one of the business’ proprietors, Truc Nguyen, was targeted with vile and alarming verbal abuse during Tuesday’s meeting. The meeting, which was held remotely on Zoom, was invaded by at least one “Zoom bomber” who interrupted the discussion by hurling an anti-Asian slur and violent threats at Ms. Nguyen, who is Vietnamese.
The perpetrator of this anonymous vitriol also hacked into Zoom accounts of board members, a reporter and others on the call, impersonating them and typing profane and threatening messages. In addition to specifically threatening Ms. Nguyen with violence, the person then threatened everyone else in attendance: “You should all be [expletive] dead.”
This is disturbing behavior to which nobody should be subjected. It is deeply sad that this still bears reiterating, even in a small, tight-knit town located in what is typically perceived as the enlightened and progressive bastion of Western Massachusetts. For anyone who might wonder whether racism’s impact still demands a reckoning, this unacceptable example demonstrates that, yes, even in West Stockbridge, some of our neighbors still feel disproportionately vulnerable just by dint of the color of their skin and their family’s origins.
Ms. Nguyen, who not only operates her family’s restaurant in downtown West Stockbridge but also resides on the property, told The Eagle that the incident has left her “shook to my core.”
“Now we have a target on our back,” she said.” People know where we live, people know where our business is.”
We hope that any decent person would agree with us that this is simply not right, and cannot be allowed to stand. Would anyone want to see themselves or their loved ones gripped by fear while in the crosshairs of such venomous hostility? No one — officials, business owners, residents or anyone else — deserves the sort of threatening bile leveled at all the community members in that Zoom meeting. Further, we should not and cannot tolerate a climate in which a community member is singled out for particularly severe abuse based on her identity.
It is easy to simply say that “hate has no home here.” Now, this community must express that sentiment not just in word but in deed. The dispute between The Foundry and the Orient Express tested the shared fabric of this community, saw many espouse a need for healing. Now, it is all the more imperative.
On a practical level, we agree with Select Board member Kathleen Keresey, who said the board going forward must take precautions against such “shameful” incidents that would disrupt local democracy and leave residents in fear.
Beyond that, though, it is time for this town to do what Berkshire communities do best: support each other as neighbors. Let the people on that call who were harassed and threatened know that they have that support they need right now — that even if you disagreed or took exception with them during this recent conflict, you won’t stand to see your neighbors treated this way.
West Stockbridge is better than the bigoted and despicable sentiments on display in this incident. Now is the time to prove that by rising above it.