This guide sets out 10 principles for fighting hate, along with a collection of inspiring stories of people who worked to push hate out of their communities.
Hate in America is a dreadful, daily constant. The dragging death of a black man in Jasper, Texas; the crucifixion of a gay man in Laramie, Wyo.; and the stabbing death of a Latino immigrant in Long Island, N.Y., are not “isolated incidents.” They are eruptions of a nation’s intolerance.
Bias is a human condition, and American history is rife with prejudice against groups and individuals because of their race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or other differences. The 20th century saw major progress in outlawing discrimination, and most Americans today support integrated schools and neighborhoods. But stereotypes and unequal treatment persist, an atmosphere often exploited by hate groups.
When bias motivates an unlawful act, it is considered a hate crime. Race and religion inspire most hate crimes, but hate today wears many faces. Bias incidents (eruptions of hate where no crime is committed) also tear communities apart — and threaten to escalate into actual crimes.
In recent years, the FBI has reported between 7,000 and 8,000 hate crime incidents per year in the United States. But law enforcement officials acknowledge that hate crimes — similar to rape and family violence crimes — go under-reported, with many victims reluctant to go to the police. In addition, some police agencies are not fully trained to recognize or investigate hate crimes, and many simply do not collect or report hate crime data. A definitive study by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2005 estimated there are about 191,000 hate crime incidents per year.
The good news is …
All over the country people are fighting hate, standing up to promote tolerance and inclusion. More often than not, when hate flares up, good people rise up against it — often in greater numbers and with stronger voices.
This guide sets out 10 principles for fighting hate, along with a collection of inspiring stories of people who worked to push hate out of their communities.
Whether you need a crash course to deal with an upcoming white-power rally, a primer on the media or a long-range plan to promote tolerance in your community, you will find practical advice, timely examples and helpful resources in this guide. The steps outlined here have been tested in scores of communities across the nation by a wide range of human rights, faith and civic organizations.
Our experience shows that one person, acting from conscience and love, is able to neutralize bigotry. Imagine, then, what an entire community, working together, might do.
Do something. In the face of hatred, apathy will be interpreted as acceptance — by the perpetrators, the public and, worse, the victims. Decent people must take action; if we don’t, hate persists.
A hate group is coming to our town. What should we do?”
“I am very alarmed at hate crimes…What can I, as one person, do to help?”
“I find myself wanting to act, to show support for the victims, to demonstrate my anger and sorrow…But I don’t know what to do or how to begin.”
If you’ve opened this guide, you probably want to “do something” about hate. You are not alone.
Questions like these arrive daily at the Southern Poverty Law Center. When a hate crime occurs or a hate group rallies, good people often feel helpless. We encourage you to act, for the following reasons:
Hate is an open attack on tolerance and decency. It must be countered with acts of goodness. Sitting home with your virtue does no good. In the face of hate, silence is deadly. Apathy will be interpreted as acceptance – by the perpetrators, the public and, worse, the victims. If left unchallenged, hate persists and grows.
Hate is an attack on a community’s health. Hate tears society along racial, ethnic, gender and religious lines. The U.S. Department of Justice warns that hate crimes, more than any other crime, can trigger larger community conflict, civil disturbances and even riots. For all their “patriotic” rhetoric, hate groups and their freelance imitators are really trying to divide us; their views are fundamentally anti-democratic. True patriots fight hate.
Hate escalates. Take seriously the smallest hint of hate — even what appears to be simple name calling. The Department of Justice again has a warning: Slurs often escalate to harassment, harassment to threats and threats to physical violence. Don’t wait to fight hate.
One Phone Call
When a cross was burned in the yard of a single mother of Portuguese descent in Rushville, Mo., one person’s actions set in motion a community uprising against hatred.
“I have been asked many times since that night why I got involved,” Christine Iverson said. “The
answer is simple. I was so upset after reading the article that I had to do something. So I got up and made a phone call. Everything else came from that moment of decision.”
Iverson, a disaster response expert and minister for Lutheran Social Services, called a friend
involved in the church’s anti-racism program. Then she called the victim. Then she called a ministerial alliance and asked to be put on the agenda. She went to the meeting with four proposals: a letter to the editor, a prayer meeting, flier distribution and a candlelight vigil. The alliance recommended all four, and Iverson was put in charge.
The result was a gathering of 300 people, a speech by the mayor, news accounts of the rally,
and the formation of a unity committee within the church alliance. More than 150 people marched for the first time in a Martin Luther King Day parade, and an essay contest was created on the theme “We Have a Dream.”
“There is still a lot of work to be done,” Iverson said, “but we are beginning to do the work together.”
When hate happens, we are faced with two choices:
Do nothing, and let hate go unchallenged.
Or do something — rise up, speak up and stand up against hate.
People across the country routinely choose the latter, making differences, small and large, in their communities.
>> A sixth-grade class in Morgantown, W.V., painted over skinhead graffiti on the outside wall of a convenience store. Their teacher had used the graffiti to discuss hatred and violence. After watching “Not In Our Town,” a video of how Billings, Mont., fought hate, the children concluded that, left to stand, the graffiti would convey community apathy. They became role models within Morgantown, with press coverage and congratulations from the state Attorney General.
>> In 2002, a Sacramento, Calif., man spearheaded a campaign to halt the sales of neo-Nazi clothing at Target stores in his community, sparking nationwide change. A clothing line with “88” symbols — H is the eighth letter of the alphabet, and 88 is white-power code for “Heil Hitler” — had been shipped to 1,100 Target stores nationwide. Joseph Rodriguez, a Sacramento Target customer, alerted the Southern Poverty Law Center after being frustrated in his attempts to have the clothing sales halted. Target eventually stopped selling the items and apologized for “any discomfort” caused by the “88” clothing, saying it “does not and will not tolerate discrimination in any form.”
>> One woman, Ammie Murray of Dixiana, S.C., is credited with rebuilding the tiny black congregation St. John Baptist Church not once but twice after racist vandals destroyed it in 1985 and burned it to the ground in 1995. Discouraged and exhausted after the second incident and with continuous personal threats to her safety, the 65-year-old white woman nonetheless fired up a 1,000-person, multiracial work force that presented the congregation with a new church in November 1998.
>> When a white-power rock concert was announced in Traverse City, Mich., a group of citizens created “Hate-Free TC.” In a daylong seminar, human rights experts educated local people about neo-Nazi skinheads, their racist music and their connection to an international movement that includes Nazis, white supremacists and the Christian Identity church. They later held an alternative rock concert, and the publicity forced cancellation of the white-power gathering.
What Can You Do?
Pick up the phone. Call friends and colleagues. Host a neighborhood or community meeting. Speak up in church. Suggest some action.
Sign a petition. Attend a vigil. Lead a prayer.
Repair acts of hate-fueled vandalism, as a neighborhood or a community.
Use whatever skills and means you have. Offer your print shop to make fliers. Share your musical talents at a rally. Give your employees the afternoon off to attend.
Be creative. Take action. Do your part to fight hate.
Call a friend or co-worker. Organize allies from churches, schools, clubs and other civic groups. Create a diverse coalition. Include children, police and the media. Gather ideas from everyone, and get everyone involved.
Others share your instinct for tolerance. There is power in numbers in the fight against hate. Asking for help and organizing a group reduces personal fear and vulnerability, spreads the workload and increases creativity and impact. Coalitions for tolerance can stand up to — and isolate — organized hate groups. You and your allies can help educate others as you work to eradicate hate.
A hate crime often creates an opportunity for a community’s first dialogue on race, homophobia or prejudice. It can help bridge the gap between neighborhoods and law enforcement. More people than we imagine want to do something; they just need a little push. As the creator of Project Lemonade found, “There are plenty of people of good conscience out there.”
Not sure where to start? Here are some ideas:
>> Call the circle around you, including family, neighbors, co-workers, people in your church, synagogue or civic club. Meet informally at first.
>> Call on groups that are likely to respond to a hate event, including faith alliances, labor unions, teachers, women’s groups, university faculties, fair housing councils, the “Y” and youth groups. Make a special effort to involve businesses, schools, houses of worship, politicians, children and members of minority and targeted groups.
>> Also call on local law enforcement officials. Work to create a healthy relationship with local police; working together, human rights groups and law enforcement officials can track early warning signs of hate brewing in a community, allowing for a rapid and unified response.
>> Go door-to-door in the neighborhood targeted by a hate group, offering support and inviting participation in a rally, candlelight vigil or other public event. Put up ribbons or turn on porch lights as symbolic gestures. Declare a “Hate Free Zone” with a poster contest and a unity pledge. Set up a booth in a local mall to collect signatures on the pledge. Buy an ad to publicize the pledge and the contest winners.
>> Fashion an appropriate, local response, but gather ideas from other towns that have faced hate events. A good starting point is a group viewing of the PBS video “Not in our Town.” It tells the story of an inspiring fight against white supremacists in Billings, Mont.
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.”
An informed campaign improves its effectiveness. Determine if a hate group is involved, and research its symbols and agenda. Understand the difference between a hate crime and a bias incident.
Eruptions of hate crimes generally produce one of two reactions: apathy (“It’s just an isolated act of by some kooks”) or fear (“The world is out of control”). Before reacting, communities need accurate information about those who are spouting hate.
The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks more than 900 organized U.S. hate groups, virtually all white supremacists but including black separatist groups as well. Some are tiny — a handful of men — but armed with a computer, e-mail and a website, their reach can be immense, their message capable of entering a child’s private bedroom.
In their literature and websites, hate groups rail at growing immigrant populations that will make whites a minority in this century. Like some of their brothers-in-arms in militia groups, they also spread fears of losing control of America to a “One World Government” dominated by Jewish bankers, multinational corporations and the United Nations. More often than not, members of hate groups blame scapegoats for their personal failures, low self-esteem, anger and frustration. They frequently act under the influence of alcohol or drugs, recruiting disaffected teens through music and other means.
Though their views may be couched in code words, members of hate groups typically share these extremist views:
• They want to limit the rights of certain groups.
• They want to divide society along racial, ethnic or religious lines.
• They believe in conspiracies.
• They try to silence any opposition.
• They are antigovernment and fundamentalist.
And yet, most hate crimes are not committed by members of hate groups. The SPLC estimates that fewer than 5 percent of hate crimes can be linked to members of hate groups. The majority appear to be the work of “freelance” perpetrators, typically young males who are looking for thrills, defending turf or trying to blame someone else for their troubles. Rarely are they acting from deeply held ideology; instead, they attack targeted groups randomly, choosing whoever is convenient. While these young men act independently, it is hate groups — mixing stereotypes with a culture of violence — that often provide the dehumanizing rhetoric that may foster such attacks.
When Hate Hits Your Doorstep
In 2003, Rebecca Hines walked out of her Montgomery, Ala., home to find hate at her doorstep. It arrived in a way hate often arrives: an anonymous flier from a known hate group.
The leaflets, placed in plastic bags and weighted down with everything from pennies to cat litter, were filled with racist and anti-immigrant propaganda. They echoed the 14-word anthem of many white-supremacist groups: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
Hines used the incident to educate her two preteen sons about hate groups.
“This is an ugly thing to happen, but it is a way to start that dialogue with your kids, too,” she said. “It’s better than waiting for them to find out on their own.”
Hines also brought the leafleting incident to the attention of her neighborhood association.
“It made me sick to my stomach,” said another neighbor, Danna Goodson. Goodson picked up leaflets from other neighbors’ yards and called police. “I just felt dirty after looking at it; I wanted to go and wash my hands.”
Leafleting is a common practice of U.S. hate groups. It happens across the country, in cities small and large. Typically, no laws are broken. But it’s important to report the incidents to police so they can track hate groups.
Joe Roy of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, which tracks U.S. hate groups, said leafleting is a form of recruitment that can lead to new hate-group chapters forming in a community.
“By keeping up with how often a group is leafleting, and what group is distributing, authorities can get an idea of how active a group or chapter is in the area, and how sophisticated,” Roy said.
Roy and others advise taking the following steps:
>> Contact city officials about the incident. They can denounce the hate activity publicly.
>> Learn common hate-group slogans and symbols, so you can recognize any further activity.
>> Talk to your children, your neighbors and others about the incident, sharing what you know about the hate groups involved. Use the incident as an opportunity to reinforce your own values about tolerance and acceptance.
>> Offer additional support to targeted neighbors. If the leaflets focus on specific residents or homes, create neighborhood-watch teams, hold vigils and show solidarity.
What's a Hate Crime?
A hate crime must meet two criteria:
• A crime must happen, such as physical assault, intimidation, arson or vandalism;
• The crime must be motivated, in whole or in part, by bias.
The list of biases included in hate crime statutes varies. Most include race, ethnicity and religion. Some also include sexual orientation, gender and/or disability. In some cases, these statutes apply only to specific situations, such as housing discrimination.
As you respond to a hate crime, check specific statutes in your area, then consider working to add missing categories, such as protections for people who are gay, lesbian or transgender.
What’s a Bias Incident?
A bias incident is conduct, speech or expression that is motivated by bias or prejudice but doesn’t involve a criminal act.
What’s the Difference?
Hate crimes, if charged and prosecuted, will be dealt with in the court system. They typically carry enhanced penalties, such as longer sentences.
Bias incidents occur with no clear path or procedure for recourse.
Both, however, demand unified and unflinching denouncement from individuals, groups and entire communities.
What’s the Impact?
Hate crimes and bias incidents don’t just victimize individuals; they torment entire communities.
When someone scrawls threatening graffiti targeting Asian Americans, for example, the entire community of Asian Americans may feel frightened and unsafe, as may members of other ethnic or racial groups.
Do not attend a hate rally. Find another outlet for anger and frustration and for people’s desire to do something. Hold a unity rally or parade to draw media attention away from hate.
Hate has a First Amendment right. Courts have routinely upheld the constitutional right of the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups to hold rallies and say what they want. Communities can restrict group movements to avoid conflicts with other citizens, but hate rallies will continue. Your efforts should focus on channeling people away from hate rallies and toward tolerance.
Do Not Attend a Hate Rally
As much as you’d like to physically show your opposition to hate, shout back or throw something, confrontations serve only the perpetrators. They also burden law enforcement with protecting hatemongers against otherwise law-abiding citizens.
>> In Memphis, Tenn., a riot broke out between Klansmen and counter-demonstrators on Martin Luther King’s birthday. More than 100 police threw tear gas canisters and arrested 20 anti-Klan demonstrators while protecting the Klan’s right to rally and speak.
>> Ann Arbor, Mich., was stung by a rally in which 300 police officers failed to protect the Klan from a chanting crowd that threw rocks and sticks, hurting seven policemen and destroying property. The Klan members were able to stand on the First Amendment, surrounded by what one of their leaders called “animal behavior.”
>> A 25-minute march by the Aryan Nations through 15 blocks of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, cost the state, county and city more than $125,000 for public safety. Mayor Steve Judy described this as money spent to protect free speech. “But we could have taken the money and done a lot for human rights with it.”
A World of Ideas
Every act of hatred should be met with an act of love and unity.
Many communities facing a hate-group rally have held alternative events at the same hour, some distance away, emphasizing strength in community and diversity. They have included picnics, parades and unity fairs featuring food, music, exhibits and entertainment. These events give people a safe outlet for the frustration and anger they want to vent. As a woman at a Spokane human rights rally put it, “Being passive is something I don’t want to do. I need to make some kind of commitment to human rights.”
>> When the Klan announced plans to clean up shoulders and ditches along a stretch of road under the Adopt-a-Highway program in Palatine, Ill. — and officials realized they couldn’t stop it — local teenagers flooded City Hall with so many applications that they claimed every inch of highway earmarked for the program and pushed the Klan onto a waiting list. “Truth and love and kindness and caring won out over hate,” Mayor Rita Mullins said. “It restored my faith in humanity.”
>> Pulaski, Tenn., the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan in 1866, closed its doors to white supremacists attempting to rally there. Racists found the town closed for business, including McDonald’s, the grocery store and Wal-Mart. “They couldn’t find a place to get a hamburger or even go to the bathroom,” the mayor said. In subsequent years, the Klan rally became a joke, and even the media got bored with it. “Last year no one came,” the mayor said. “The year before that, the only TV was the Comedy Channel.”
>> When the Klan came to Indianapolis, local museums, the state capitol and other attractions opened their doors to citizens for free. Community leaders held a youth rally in a ballroom. A huge coalition, including the mayor and the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, placed a full-page ad in The Indianapolis Star deploring the Klan.
An Alternative to Hate in Maine
On Oct. 1, 2002, the mayor of Lewiston, Maine, sent an open letter to the town’s growing Somali community. He told them the town was “maxedout, physically and emotionally” from what the press began to call a Somali “invasion.”
By that point, about 1,100 Somali immigrants lived in Lewiston, a city of about 36,000 residents.
One Somali resident told a local newspaper he was shocked by the sentiment in the mayor’s letter. “He thinks he’s mayor for only white residents,” Mohamed Driye said. “He’s not only their mayor. He’s our mayor, too.” Others, in a letter, described the mayor as “an ill-informed leader … bent toward bigotry.”
Two hate groups — the National Alliance and what was then known as the World Church of the Creator — saw an opportunity for “outreach.” They planned a January 2003 rally in Lewiston, hoping to attract disgruntled, anti-immigrant residents. Their own “open” letter to the town began with this greeting: “Dear fellow white people.”
Somalis and their many supporters in Lewiston planned an alternative event. Local churches, students and dozens of concerned residents joined the effort.
Working with hate-group experts, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, the group chose not to engage the hate groups directly, but rather to send a separate, stronger message against hate.
“We invited everyone together … and brought everyone under one umbrella,” the Rev. Mark Schlotterbeck said.
Added James Carignan, a professor and dean at Bates College, referring to the planned hate rally: “This is not who we are, and we have to make sure people know that.”
The umbrella group, calling itself the Many and One Coalition, planned teach-ins and a diversity rally for the same day, in a different location.
The result? More than 4,000 attended the Many and One event, while fewer than 100 showed up at the hate rally.
Ziad Hamzeh later made a film about Lewiston; “The Letter” has played at film festivals across the country, drawing praise and garnering awards.
“I went to Lewiston thinking, ‘What do these people have to teach me?’ And they taught me a lot,” Hamzeh said. “They taught me to be a better American, a better human being. I was able to relearn and re-experience again what America is.”
Hate must be exposed and denounced. Help news organizations achieve balance and depth. Do not debate hate-group members in conflict-driven forums. Instead, speak up in ways that draw attention away from hate, toward unity.
Goodness has a First Amendment right, too. We urge you to denounce hate groups and hate crimes and to spread the truth about hate’s threat to a pluralistic society. An informed and unified community is the best defense against hate.
You can spread tolerance through church bulletins, door-to-door fliers, websites, local cable TV bulletin boards, letters to the editor and print advertisements. Hate shrivels under strong light. Beneath their neo-Nazi exteriors, hate purveyors are cowards, surprisingly subject to public pressure and ostracism.
>> When the 20-year-old “national leader” of the Aryan Nations in Canada was exposed by thePrince George Citizen, he resigned and closed his website. “I don’t want to have this plastered all over the place,” he said.
>> Floyd Cochran, a former recruiter for the Aryan Nations, recalls the night he and founder Richard Butler traveled to tiny Sandpoint, Idaho, to intimidate a human relations meeting. When they found 300 people, they were intimidated themselves. “I didn’t go back to Sandpoint because of the turnout,” Cochran said.
Dealing with Media
Some tips for an effective media campaign:
>> News outlets cover hate crimes and groups. Don’t kill the messenger. Consider hate news a wake-up call, revealing tension in the community. Attack the problem. Reporters will then cover you, too.
>> Name a press contact for your group. This keeps the message consistent and allows the press to quickly seek comment or reaction to events. Invite the press to all your meetings.
>> The media like news hooks and catchy phrases, such as “Hate Free Zone.” Propose human-interest stories, such as the impact of hate on individuals. Use signs, balloons or other props that will be attractive to media photographers.
>> Educate reporters, editors and publishers about hate groups, their symbols and their effect on victims and communities. Put them in touch with hate experts like the Southern Poverty Law Center. Urge editorial stands against hate.
>> Criticize the press when it falls short. Remind editors that it is not fair to focus on 20 Klansmen when 300 people attend a peace rally.
>> Do not debate white supremacists or other hate-group members on conflict-driven talk shows or public forums. Your presence lends them legitimacy and publicity, they use code words to cover their hate beliefs, and they misinterpret history and Bible verses in a manner that is difficult to counter under time constraints.
A Tale of Two Towns
When the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Sharpsburg, Md., just nine Klan supporters showed up, “marching” two blocks, behind a police barrier, then leaving on the same rented Trailways bus they drove in on.
Meanwhile, many others — more than 30 times the number of Klansmen marching up Hall Street — spoke up in much louder and more effective ways.
About 40 area groups and businesses planned several alternative events in Sharpsburg and neighboring Keedysville — all this from a combined population of fewer than 1,400 people.
About 60 people attended a morning interfaith service. More than 100 turned out for an outdoor concert that afternoon, near Sharpsburg. More than 40 young people, ages 10 to 20, gathered at a local pizzeria. And more than 100 others attended a celebration of diversity in Keedysville.
“The Klan has a First Amendment right to free speech, but I also have the right to say that’s not what I believe in, that’s not what my community stands for,” said Amanda Reed of Sharpsburg, who helped organize the alternative events.
Others also spoke out against the Klan. A local Waffle House used its letter-board sign to send a message: “Teach love not war.” A red Ford Explorer carried another sign: “Hate is not welcome here.” And everywhere people wore specially made T-shirts that said, “We believe in love, not hate in Washington County.”
The gatherings earned local and regional press coverage that provided a balance to the hate message of the Klan.
While the single day was a success, many residents said long-term change — change that would never allow the Klan to feel welcome in either town again — is the ultimate goal.
As organizer Jerry Randell, explained: “If things keep happening after this day, that’s how we’ll know we’re successful.”
A Message for the Media:
Share this with media contacts you know, or simply photocopy it and mail it to an editor, anchor, columnist or reporter:
A newsroom that covers race issues thoroughly and regularly sets an agenda for the community. Nuanced and thoughtful coverage — rather than shallow, knee-jerk stories or images — deepens our community’s discussion and understanding of race.
Consider the following:
>> The masked, mysterious Klansman, like his burning cross, is an emotional image loaded with historical associations. Don’t let this cliché control the story. Include a serious look at the Klan’s numbers and influence, its involvement in hate crimes, and the hypocrisy of its pseudo-Christian message.
>> Don’t allow hate groups to masquerade as white-pride civic groups. In their literature and on their websites, they denigrate certain scapegoats, typically people of color and Jews. Gather comments from local police, state human rights commissions, the Southern Poverty Law Center or the Anti-Defamation League.
>> Klan and other white supremacist rallies represent the outer margin of American society. No meaningful dialogue on race can occur when it is framed by such extremes. Seek deeper, more thoughtful coverage of issues of race and other -isms.
As a final thought, we ask you to:
Take hate crimes seriously and report them prominently. Consider an annual “race report card.” Give reporters time to cover the Klan and other hate groups in depth, beyond an annual parade. Cover the impact of hate on victims and other members of target groups. Become an activist against hate, just as you are against crime. Sponsor a forum or other community journalism event tied to these issues. And don’t miss the “good news” as ordinary people struggle with homegrown ways to promote tolerance.
You are part of our community, and you must be part of our fight against hate.
Elected officials and other community leaders can be important allies in the fight against hate. But some must overcome reluctance — and others, their own biases — before they’re able to take a stand.
The fight against hate needs community leaders willing to take an active role. Mayors and police chiefs, college presidents and school principals, local clergy and corporate CEOs: Their support and leadership can help your community address the root causes of hate and help turn bias incidents into experiences from which your community can learn and heal.
When leaders step forward and act swiftly in the wake of a hate incident, victims feel supported, community members feel safe, and space for action and dialogue can grow.
Too often, the fear of negative publicity, a lack of partnerships with affected communities, and a failure to understand the root causes of hate and bias can prevent leaders from stepping up. Their silence creates a vacuum in which rumors spread, victims feel ignored and perpetrators find tacit acceptance.
Steps to Take
Here are steps for a healthy community:
>> Form relationships with community leaders before a hate incident occurs. If your community group already has a relationship with the mayor, for example, you will be better positioned to ask her to make a public statement in the event of a hate crime.
>> Educate community leaders about the causes and effects of hate. Sometimes, well-intentioned leaders don’t understand that bias-motivated actions can have far-reaching effects across a community. Educate leaders about the impact of hate and the root causes of intolerance, so their response can match the incident.
>> Demand a quick, serious police response. The vigorous investigation and prosecution of hate crimes attracts media attention to issues of tolerance and encourages the public to stand up against hate.
>> Demand a strong public statement by political leaders. When elected officials issue proclamations against hate, it helps promote tolerance and can unify communities. Silence, on the other hand, can be interpreted as the acceptance of hate.
>> Encourage leaders to name the problem. Local leaders sometimes try to minimize incidents fueled by hate or bias, not calling them hate crimes. As a result, victims and their communities can feel silenced, and national hate crimes statistics become inaccurate. “Only when we know the true level and nature of hate crime in the U.S. will we be able to allocate resources in an effective way to combat it,” advises Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project.
>> Lobby for action. To heal in the wake of a bias incident — and to grow into a more resilient community — requires more than official statements. It also takes hard work. Ask your community leaders to walk the talk. Ask for their public support and involvement in rallies, community meetings and long-term solutions that address the root causes of intolerance.
When Leaders Show Bias — or Inaction
Sometimes, elected officials, law enforcement and community leaders are the source of bias and hate. The effects of officially sanctioned intolerance can be long lasting. It can take a special kind of organizing to fight such bigotry.
>> In early 2005, when Sheriff Mac Holcomb of Marshall County, Ala., refused to remove a public letter decrying homosexuality as “despicable” and “an abomination” from the county’s website, local residents and others from across the country wrote thousands of letters of protest. After sustained community pressure and a significant amount of media attention, the county finally removed the offensive material.
>> A week after the 9.11 terrorist attacks, U.S. Rep. John Cooksey, R-La., told reporters that everyone with a “diaper on his head” should be considered a suspect. After outcry from his constituents, Cooksey apologized, but the damage was done: His remark offered tacit encouragement for an alarming wave of hate crimes against Arab Americans, Muslims, Sikhs and citizens of South Asian descent.
>> When Nashville-area minister Maury Davis called Islam “the evil religion” and “the greatest threat to the American way of life” in early 2002, the local Islamic community quickly organized. Local Christian leaders also stepped up as allies, making a public stand against hate.
More Than They Asked For
When a group of residents in Montgomery, Ala., joined forces to counter the burgeoning post-9.11 backlash against Arab and Muslim Americans, they had no idea their efforts would result in the appointment of the first hate crimes officer in Alabama history.
“All that we had really hoped for was to get some sort of public statement from local leaders about the backlash,” said Trish O’Kane, secretary for the Alliance for Civility and Tolerance.
Instead, their plea to local leaders was so persuasive that within hours of meeting with ACT members, Police Chief John Wilson named the state’s first hate crimes officer.
ACT met with Chief Wilson to voice concerns about several local hate crimes against Muslims. The group also expressed their worry that other bias-motivated crimes were going unreported and undocumented.
“Security was high on the agenda, and there was a problem that needed to be solved,” said O’Kane. “I think (the police) were glad to see people walking through the door who were willing to help and who could provide them with some information about the problem.”
Before meeting with ACT, said Chief Wilson, “It was hard for us to get something off the ground, because there was nothing else like it in this area. We didn’t really know what we needed.”
Now, after community involvement, the Montgomery Police Department has one full-time hate crimes officer and another officer trained as a backup.
Promote tolerance and address bias before another hate crime can occur. Expand your community’s comfort zones so you can learn and live together. Hate usually doesn't strike communities from some distant place. It often begins at home, brewing silently under the surface. Hate can grow out of divided communities, communities in which residents feel powerless or voiceless, communities in which differences are the cause of fear instead of celebration.
The best cure for hate is a tolerant, united community. As Chris Boucher of Yukon, Penn., put it after residents there opposed a local meeting of the Ku Klux Klan, “A united coalition is like Teflon. Hate can’t stick there.”
Hate exists “because the ground in the area is receptive for it,” says Steven Johns Boehme, leader of the Michigan Ecumenical Forum. “If you drop the seeds of prejudice in soil that is not receptive, they won’t take root.”
Experts say the first step in changing hearts is to change behavior. Personal changes are important — the positive statements you make about others, unlearning assumptions about people who are different — but community-wide changes are instrumental, too.
Often, either after a bias incident or as a tool for preventing one, communities want to sponsor multicultural food festivals and other events to celebrate differences. These are important steps in helping community members feel acknowledged and appreciated. We encourage you to sponsor these — and we encourage you to go deeper.
Steps to Take
Not sure where to start? Consider the following:
>> Hold candlelight vigils, religious services and other activities to bring people of different races, religions and ethnic groups together. In Boise, Idaho, Martin Luther King’s birthday has become an 11-day Human Rights Celebration.
>> Honor history and mark anniversaries. In Selma, Ala., a multicultural street fair is held on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when voting-rights activists attempted to walk across a bridge to Montgomery and were beaten back by police. And in Denver, Cinco de Mayo has become a major celebration of Mexican culture.
>> Break bread together. The Cornbread Club in Lubbock, Texas, brings together people of different ethnicities and income levels. The group has no agenda, no speakers and only one rule at its monthly dinners at a local cafeteria: Sit next to someone you don’t know.
>> Move from prayer to action. In California’s San Fernando Valley, an interfaith council formed “home dialogues,” with people from different faiths and cultures meeting together in their homes. In Covington, Ky., churchwomen conducted a letter-writing campaign to support hate crime legislation; they later promoted teacher training in race relations.
>> Begin a community conversation on race. Discussion groups, book clubs, Internet chat rooms and library gatherings can bring people together. Effective community conversations allow individuals to tell their stories, their immigration history, their daily encounters with discrimination, their fear about revealing sexual orientation and so on.
>> Consider building something the community needs, and use it as an organizing tool – from a teen center to a new playground. Make sure residents from different backgrounds are included in the process.
>> Create a tolerance website or an online community discussion board. Coloradans United Against Hate — www.cuah.com — is an online “paperless organization” with a virtual billboard for posting stories and comments on local hate issues.
From “human rights coalitions” to “peace and justice” groups, many regions across the country are creating tolerance networks. Individual member organizations can organize their communities around issues of tolerance and social justice; combined, the networks make a powerful force for responding to bias incidents and lobbying for change.
The Many and One Coalition, for example, formed in 2003 after a white supremacist group held a rally there.
Following immediate activities surrounding a hate-group rally, the Many and One Coalition has evolved into a large-scale diversity organization, educating and organizing residents, businesses and community-based organizations to address personal and systemic oppression, like racism, sexism and homophobia.
The coalition sponsors an annual statewide event called, “10 Days of Community, Diversity and Justice.” The conference celebrates differences with activities like multicultural food fair. But it also helps residents go further, providing a safe space in which participants can talk about sensitive issues like race, sexual orientation and religion.
Bias is learned early, usually at home. Schools can offer lessons of tolerance and acceptance. Sponsor an “I Have a Dream” contest. Reach out to young people who may be susceptible to hate-group propaganda and prejudice.
Bias is learned in childhood. By age 3, children can be aware of racial differences and may have the perception that “white” is desirable. By age 12, they can hold stereotypes about ethnic, racial and religious groups. Because stereotypes underlie hate, and because almost half of all hate crimes are committed by young men under 20, tolerance education is critical.
Schools are an ideal environment to counter bias, because they mix youth of different backgrounds, place them on equal footing and allow one-on-one interaction. Children also are naturally curious about people who are different.
In the Classroom
Here are some ideas:
>> Acknowledge differences among students and celebrate the uniqueness of everyone. In Debra Goldsbury’s firstgrade class in Seattle, children paint selfportraits, mixing colors to match their skin tone. They then name their colors, which have included “gingerbread,” “melon” and “terra cotta.” They learn that everyone has a color, that no one is actually “white.”
>> Create an “I Have a Dream” contest, in which students envision and describe an ideal community. In North Berkshire, Mass., winning essays are reproduced and rolled onto highway billboards donated by the Callahan Outdoor Advertising Company.
>> Promote inclusion and fairness, but allow discussions of all feelings, including bias learned at home and the street. Establish a “peace table” where children learn to “fight fair,” perhaps with hand puppets in which conflict is acted out.
>> Promote diversity by letting children tell stories about their families, however different they may be. Diversity embraces not just race, but age, religion, marital status and personal ability. Remember that charting “family trees” can be a challenge to some children, such as those who are adopted or living with single parents.
>> Use art and theatre to help children understand the effects of discrimination and celebrate their differences. At Southeast Whitfield High School in Dalton, Ga., an ESOL class painted a mural on their classroom wall. The activity provided an outlet for immigrant students to share part of their culture and discuss the challenges of moving to a new country.
>> Teach older children to look critically at stereotypes portrayed by the media. Ask them to close their eyes and imagine a lawyer, doctor, rap musician, gang member, bank president, hair stylist or criminal. What did they “see” and why? Confronted with their own stereotypes, children begin to question how they’ve been shaped by the media.
>> Teach mediation skills to kids. At Mill Hill Elementary School in Fairfield, Conn., a group of fifth-graders, selected because of their reputations as bullies, respond anonymously to letters from younger students seeking advice on a range of school-related problems, like bullying and harassment. The program helps students develop empathy.
Beyond the Classroom
Tolerance can be taught to your community as well. Consider a case in Arizona.
Amid increasingly virulent anti-immigrant sentiment, the Coalicion de Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Coalition) holds weekly public vigils in Tucson to honor those who have lost their lives trying to cross the border from Mexico into the United States.
The group, which works to document human rights abuses along the border, also keeps a list of border deaths, including age and cause of death: age 26, dehydration; age 18, hit by a car; age 43, gunshot wound; age 25, drowned; age 19, heat stroke.
“It hits home, with the specific information,” said Kat Rodriguez of Derechos Humanos. “It shows the cost of the failed and flawed border policies of the United States, the human cost.”
Responding to Bias on Campus
While most schools have plans in place to deal with fire, bad weather and medical emergencies, few are prepared for bias incidents.
But there are many things you can do. As educators, it is critical that you speak up when bigotry comes from colleagues. In a survey of Teaching Tolerance readers, educators responded that the No. 1 source of biased language on campus was other educators. When teachers exhibit intolerant attitudes, students lose an important ally — and the harassers win.
Teaching Tolerance offers programs to help schools become “safe zones.”
Mix It Up encourages students to break down the social boundaries that create cliques and lead to harmful stereotypes and exclusion. During the annual Mix It Up at Lunch Day, students eat lunch while sitting next to someone they don’t know. Prompts from teachers or other students guide the conversation. Often combined with dialogue groups sponsored by Study Circles, Mix It Up at Lunch Day has helped millions of students across the country examine their own biases and overcome their fears of difference. Visit www.mixitup.org for more information.
Five Steps for Parents to Take
1. Examine your children’s textbooks and the curricula at their schools to determine whether they are equitable and multicultural.
2. Encourage teachers and administrators to adopt diversity training and tolerance curricula, including Teaching Tolerance magazine and other diversity education materials.
3. Encourage your children to become tolerance activists. They can form harmony clubs, build multicultural peace gardens, sponsor “walk in my shoes” activities and join study circles to interact with children of other cultures.
4. Examine the media your children consume, from Internet sites to the commercials during their favorite TV shows. Stereotypes and issues of intolerance are bound to be present. Discuss these issues openly, as you would the dangers of sex and drugs.
5. Model inclusive language and behavior. Children learn from the language you use and the attitudes you model. If you demonstrate a deep respect for other cultures, races and walks of life, most likely they will, too.
Look inside yourself for prejudices and stereotypes. Build your own cultural competency, then keep working to expose discrimination wherever it happens — in housing, employment, education and more.
Tolerance, fundamentally, is a personal decision. It comes from an attitude that is learnable and embraceable: a belief that every voice matters, that all people are valuable, that no one is “less than.”
We all grow up with prejudices. Acknowledging them – and working through them – can be a scary and difficult process. It’s also one of the most important steps toward breaking down the walls of silence that allow intolerance to grow. Luckily, we all possess the power to overcome our ignorance and fear, and to influence our children, peers and communities.
It Begins With Me
Human rights experts recommend starting with the language we use and the assumptions we make about others. Am I quick to label people as “rednecks” or “illegals”? Do I tell gay jokes? Do I look with disdain at families on welfare, or do I try to understand the socio-economic forces that prevent many families from climbing out of poverty?
Here are other questions you might ask yourself:
>> How wide is my circle of friends? How diverse is my holiday card list?
>> How integrated is my neighborhood? My child’s school? My workplace? Why is that?
>> Do I take economic segregation and environmental racism for granted?
>> Do I have the courage to ask a friend not to tell a sexist or racist or homophobic joke in my presence?
>> Do I receive information about other cultures from members of those cultures, or from potentially biased, third-party sources?
>> Do I take the time to listen and learn from other people’s experiences — especially people with whom I might initially disagree?
>> How often am I in the minority?
Many good books, films and workshops can help guide you in self-examination. Reading the histories of other cultures and of different social justice movements — the civil rights movement, the Chicano movement, the fight for gay rights, for example — is a good start.
Fighting for Systemic Change
Sooner or later, your personal exploration will bump up against issues that take more than one person to solve. Investigating your own prejudices will reveal a country with deep, systemic and unresolved prejudice and discrimination.
These issues cry out for answers and people to take them on. Experts warn that if we fail to tackle the root causes of intolerance, the efforts described in this guidebook will end up looking “like small points of light in a sea of overwhelming darkness.”
In any city and state there are dozens of problems to address: hunger, affordable housing, domestic violence, school dropout rates, police brutality — the list goes on. A caring group of people, having coalesced to deal with hate, could remain together to tackle any number of societal problems.
Luckily, most towns and cities have neighborhood or citywide organizations that bring together people of different backgrounds to work for change. If yours does not, there are plenty of resources available to help you start one.
Why not start today?
The most important step is the first one …