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Manchester vigil's message: 'We can do better than this'

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 24. 2017 7:52PM
Eva Castillo speaks during Tuesday afternoon's vigil at Rock Rimmon Park in Manchester to denounce racially charged signs found at two city schools and along a walking trail last week. Castillo and Dan Szczesny, at right, organized the event. (Allegra Boverman//Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — A week after the discovery of racially tinged banners in Manchester, a different sign went up Tuesday.

“Hate has no home here,” was the message printed in six different languages on placards that people held at a hastily convened rally at Rock Rimmon Park.

“Diversity is strength, it’s not weakness. If we’re not diverse, we’re nothing,” said Dr. Salaam Malik, one of about a dozen speakers to address the gathering.

The event was called in response to the discovery last week of banners found at Parkside Middle School, and at Webster Elementary, where the district concentrates its English program for elementary-school-age, non-native speakers.

Another was found at a small athletic field at the end of Douglas Street. The fourth was at the pedestrian bridge that crosses the Piscataguog River and links Manchester to Goffstown.

At least two read: “‘Diversity’ is a code word for #WhiteGenocide”

The vigil-like gathering drew about 150 people, including Mayor Ted Gatsas, Bishop of Manchester Peter Libasci, state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, several aldermen and school board members, and City Year volunteers. Gatsas had everyone hold hands as he spoke.

He said Manchester has always been a diverse community known for helping the less fortunate.

“As long as I’m mayor in this community, this is not going to be tolerated,” he said.

The White Genocide Project banners — a black background and white lettering — are available from the website. Each banner kit goes for $60 and includes the banner and a similarly worded message in black letters on a light background.

“My sense is this organization is actually pretty small, but their materials are used widely,” said Keegan Hankes, an analyst with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

He said the White Genocide Project started about five years ago. Last January, it posted a white genocide billboard in Birmingham, Ala., but it was quickly removed. Sympathizers are active in social media and the blogosphere, and will post signs, Hankes said.

Many speakers at Tuesday’s event in Manchester praised the community as a tolerant place.

But a 34-year-old African-American said she grew up in Manchester and faced racism, such as racial epithets. There were also people who stood up for her, she said.

More recently, she’s attended Black lives Matter rallies in Manchester; she said some white people stood nearby with assault rifles.

“I’m afraid. I’m afraid for my children, I’m afraid for myself,” she said. She asked that her name not be published because she is a domestic assault survivor.

The rally lasted about an hour. It was held on a chilly, overcast afternoon where the hue of the sky differed little from the snow underfoot.

Organizers passed out candles, which were difficult to keep lit in a slight breeze.

At one point, they took a break from speeches to sing “This Little Light of Mine.”

In brief remarks, Libasci rejected the idea that hate was involved.

“It’s not a matter of hate. It’s just misunderstanding. We can do better than this,” he said.

Politics Social issues NH People Manchester

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