Concord Monitor: “‘We’re One Big Family’ – Community Shows Support for Refugees Targeted by Graffiti”

[August 10, 2012] By Ray Duckler / Monitor staff

Wonder what the genius who wrote the racist remarks in the South End last weekend thinks of yesterday’s reaction.

Wonder if the person, who labeled a Somali family “primitive beasts” in permanent marker, feels isolated after the neighborhood joined hands, in high humidity, to sing, celebrate and unite.

This person is the outsider.

Not the refugees who were targeted.

Concord police Chief John Duval called the act, done in the cover of darkness sometime late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, cowardly.

Gov. John Lynch called it disgusting.

And more people than could be counted on Thompson Street, at least 300, called the victims in this hate crime part of a family.

Their family.

“We’re not going to change that person’s mind by catching them,” said South End resident Jill Lanney, who begins her freshman year at Brown University next month. “And while I do hope that they are caught, I think it’s more important to show that we don’t agree with what was written and we stand with this family against that kind of cruel behavior.”

The South End has gotten bad press lately. Violence, theft and drug use have created a more visible police presence, but Duval got an eyeful of all that is good in this area under a hot noontime sun.

He saw a few hundred people rally, showing support to Batula, her husband, Salad, and their seven children.

The couple agreed to release their first names only, fearful that more information might be dangerous.

The crowd that gathered in front of their home, though, provided a safety net of comfort and strength.

“These people showing up here tells me they think they are very sorry about the event that happened,” Salad said. “I am very happy to see them here.”

“Welcome is a constant posture,” added Maggie Fogarty, a board member for New American Africans. “It’s not achieved with one event or one day.”

People like Fogarty and Honore Murenzi, a Rwandan refugee living in Chichester, have mobilized their forces since a similar crime occurred last September.

Then, three African families were hit with xenophobic graffiti, their homes in the same area as this one. That led to the creation of groups like Love Your Neighbor and increased exposure for organizations like New American Africans.

Duval offered comforting words yesterday, telling the crowd, “Please know that the Concord Police Department is putting forth every effort, in full cooperation with the attorney general, the Merrimack County Attorney’s Office, the U.S. attorney, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, other government entities and other organizations. Every citizen of this city deserves to live their life free of fear and intimidation.”

When news of the crime first broke, Lt. Timothy O’Malley of the Concord police, asked if the same person involved in the September crime might have defaced the Thompson Street home, said, “It’s a strong possibility.”

Duval wouldn’t go that far yesterday, saying that the vinyl siding removed from the house needs to undergo more testing, which could take weeks, if not months.

“There’s chemical aspects to ink, there’s writing style, maybe fingerprints, saliva, blood,” Duval said after the speeches were done. “It’s not uncommon for DNA to be left behind at a crime scene, so we’re looking for anything that may be useful.”

Meanwhile, residents in this area are worried. At least Evelyn Aissa, a volunteer with New American Africans, is. She’s been living in the neighborhood for eight months. Her husband, who’s Syrian, has heard whispers about his Muslim heritage.

“It’s disturbing and sad,” Aissa said. “It’s home for everyone here. You have nowhere else to go, and you would hope that people could feel secure in their homes and be respected by their neighbors.”

That was the message at an event attended by the governor and covered by television stations from Boston as well as Manchester.

Lynch spoke briefly with Batula, who wore a baati – a long cotton dress rich in tradition and color.

They stood beside the house, her children, ages 2 to 15, scattered about.

“We’re one big family and you’re part of that family,” Lynch told her. “I want you to know that.”

“I know,” Batula said. “Some people are nice and some people not. Not all people are the same. A thousand people, three people are bad, the rest are good.”

The good ones showed up yesterday, on short notice. They took time off from work and they brought their kids.

The sound of bongos filled the air during the entire ceremony, a peaceful staple to a peaceful day.

Someone played acoustic guitar, and everyone sang “We Shall Overcome.”

Mohamed Mohamed, also born in Somalia, lives around the block from Batula and Salad. He’s been in this country for eight years, and serves as a translator for the local Somali community.

And yesterday was a good day for Somalia, and everyone living on Thompson Street.

“This makes us very proud,” Mohamed said. “If you look at all these people, you can translate that this is a good neighborhood and people love refugees. People love everybody that live close to them.”

Wonder what the genius thinks about that?

To read the article on the Concord Monitor website, click here.

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