02/2010

Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide

3 Support the Victims

Hate-crime victims are especially vulnerable, fearful and alone. If you’re a victim, report every incident — in detail — and ask for help. If you learn about a hate-crime victim in your community, show support. Let victims know you care. Surround them with comfort and protection.

Victims of hate crimes feel terribly alone and afraid. They have been attacked simply for being who they are — their skin color, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation. Silence amplifies their isolation; it also tacitly condones the act of hate. Victims need a strong, quick message that they are valued. Small acts of kindness — a phone call, a letter – can help.  

Often, hate attacks include vicious symbols: a burning cross, a noose, a swastika. Such symbols evoke a history of hatred. They also reverberate beyond individual victims, leaving entire communities vulnerable and afraid.

And because they may fear “the system,” some victims may welcome the presence of others at the police station or courthouse. Local human rights organizations often provide such support, but individuals also may step forward.

With that in mind, consider some of the many ways individuals and communities have risen up to support victims of hate:

>> As white supremacists marched in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, a number of families invited black and Latino neighbors to dinner. “Just as a way of saying, ‘You are welcome,’” said one host.

>> In Montgomery, Ala., after hate mail and nails were thrown at black families in a formerly all-white neighborhood, a woman left a rose and a card, telling them, “You are not alone.”

>> When vandals spray-painted racial slurs, swastikas and references to the Ku Klux Klan on the driveway and home of a resident in a small Florida town near Tampa, neighbors showed up with a pressure-washer and paint to remove and cover up the hateful graffiti.

>> After white supremacists harassed a Sacramento family, a labor union provided round-the-clock security.

>> At Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., administrators moved final exams for harassed black students to a safer location.

>> When a church in Manchester, N.H., was vandalized with racist and hateful graffiti, other houses of worship showed solidarity by leaving their lights on all night, all across town. “An attack against your church is an attack against all our congregations,” Rabbi Arthur Starr explained.

If You Are a Victim
We urge hate victims to report crimes to police.

Only you can decide whether to reveal your identity. But many victims have found the courage to lend their names to fighting hate. If you decide to speak up:

Report every incident. If you are a targeted minority, harassment could continue. What began as egg throwing at five black families in rural Selbrook, Ala., escalated for 18 months until hate mail made it a federal offense. The story made the news, police patrolled and harassment declined.

Speak to the press. Your story, with a frank discussion of the impact on your family life, can be a powerful motivator to others. Copycat crimes are possible, but rare. More likely, you’ll be encouraged by love and support. In Watertown, N.Y., a black minister talked about the vulgar hate mail he received. His community held a special unity rally. “Denying that racism exists, or not talking about it, will not cause it to go away,” he said.

Research your legal rights. After enduring racial slurs, slashed tires, broken windows, the wounding of their dog, and a six-foot burning cross planted in their yard by their white neighbor, Andrew Bailey and Sharon Henderson of Chicago filed suit against the perpetrator. A federal jury awarded them $720,000.

Not in Our Town
Christmas was just around the corner in 1993 when Billings, Mont., entered a white-supremacist hell. Jewish graves were vandalized. Native American homes were sprayed with epithets like “Die Indian.” Skinheads harassed a black church congregation. But these events received scant notice — until 5-year-old Isaac Schnitzer’s holiday peace was shattered.  

On Dec. 2, a chunk of cinder block broke his upstairs window. The window displayed a menorah, a row of candles lighted at Hanukkah. Responding police urged his mother, Tammie Schnitzer, to take down all their Jewish symbols. She refused and said so boldly in a news story.

As if suddenly aware of hate in its midst, Billings responded. Vigils were held. Petitions were signed. A painters’ union led 100 people in repainting houses. Within days, the town erupted in menorahs — purchased at K-mart, photocopied in church offices and printed in the Billings Gazette — displayed in thousands of windows.

Mrs. Schnitzer took her son for a ride through town to look at all the menorahs.

“Are they Jewish, too?” a wide-eyed Isaac asked.

“No,” she said, “they’re friends.”

Rick Smith, the manager of a local sporting goods store, was so moved by events that he changed the sales pitch on his street marquee. Instead of an ad for school letter jackets, he mounted, in foot-high letters: “Not in Our Town. No Hate. No Violence. Peace on Earth.”

The marquee got national exposure, and “Not in Our Town” became a famous slogan. It went on to title a Hollywood movie, a PBS special, a school musical and a tolerance movement in more than 30 states.

Not in Our Town, with its forceful message to hate groups, is now spread by The Working Group, a nonprofit production company that produced the video, “Not In Our Town.” Subsequent videos show what communities around the country have done to fight hate.

Margaret MacDonald was among those who ignited the anti-hate movement in Billings. A decade after the events, she still is moved.

“The story of Billings embodies how people believe the world ought to be,” she said. “It touches on First Amendment responsibilities (and) civic responsibility; it’s about multiple faiths finding ways to validate each others’ liberties and freedoms. It’s a transformation of violence and hate into peace-making.”