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Community rises to support Concord neighbors victimized by racist graffiti

By BILL SMITH
New Hampshire Union Leader

August 09. 2012 7:05PM
New American Africans director Honore Myreni speaks to attendees outside the home of a Somali family victimized by racist graffiti earlier this week at a Love Your Neighbor gathering Thursday afternoon on Thompson Street in Concord. (JOSH GIBNEY/UNION LEADER)


CONCORD - Residents upset with an act of racist graffiti aimed at a family of Somali immigrants gathered at the scene Thursday to show support for their neighbors and condemnation for the hate crime.

Organized by New American Africans, a support group founded and led by immigrants, the rally drew a couple of hundred community leaders and residents to the street outside the family's Thompson Street home.

The graffiti, written Sunday night in black marker beneath the front windows of the family's apartment in a multifamily home, said 'we cannot coexist with immigrant scum.'

Honare Murzanzi, an immigrant and a founder of the New American African group, said organizers wanted the family to know it is not alone in facing an act of hate. The graffiti was drawn outside a window of the room in which members of the family slept. The goal, Murzanzi said, was to make the family, Somali immigrants and the whole immigrant community feel safe.

'People are afraid because they don't know what will happen next,' Murzanzi said. 'It's very important that we show people that we are there and we love each other.'

Participants sang traditional songs and a handful of speakers told the family that the incident does not reflect the larger community.

The targeted family, a married couple and seven children aged 2-15, asked that their names not be used. The mother said the expressions of support have changed fear to hope.

'I was thinking about the people, they don't know me, they don't like me or some thing like that,' she said. 'But today after I saw a lot of people in here and they say they are so sorry, I feel happy for now.'

Gov. John Lynch was direct in his words, directed to the victims, telling them he was disgusted, appalled and angry.

'I want your family to know this was an isolated incident, it does not reflect who we are,' Lynch said. 'You are part of our family and you will get all the love and support we give all our neighbors in New Hampshire.'

Lynch called for prosecution of the responsible parties 'to the fullest extent of the law.'

Rally participants said they hoped their presence would counter feelings of people who had been targets.

Concord Police Chief John Duval said the incident Sunday could be related to an incident of racist graffiti committed last September in Concord.

'The indication is that the similarities are striking, it was on a house, black marker, words that are very specific and targeted to the people who live in the residence,' Duval said. 'We'll find out if it's the same people.'

Duval said police are piecing small bits of information together, much of it gathered because heightened awareness of what happened has led to better communication with police.

'We're following leads. I think we're going to continue to need the help of the community,' he said.

Participants in the rally said they attended because they wanted to send a clear message, both to the victims and to the community at large.

The Rev. Dwight Haynes, retired pastor of First United Methodist Church of Manchester, said he had participated in civil rights marches in the South in the 1960s. Haynes sees similarities in the fear some whites held toward blacks in the South a half-century ago and the fear some people have toward immigrant communities today.

'They think 'they're different, they're going to take over our country, won't be able to get a job if they get a job,'' Haynes said. 'We just need to challenge that in every way we can.'

The family targeted by the racist graffiti is trying to return to the life they knew before the hate crime, a task the father and husband said is easier because of the support they have received.

'This community and this great show-up gives me a lot of courage,' he said. 'I love my neighbors, I love my community - everything's positive and I love them.'

His wife, who said she didn't speak English when she arrived in America and who didn't know the words to accept an offer of help - let alone ask for it - found the words to thank community that rallied around her family.

'This is home,' she said.

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Bill Smith may be reached at wsmith@unionleader.com.


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