BY QUANNY CARR — Enduring frozen fingers and whipping winds, more than 200 area residents stood in solidarity on Nov. 20 at Magruder Park to say “Not On Our Watch” in response to the increase in hate crimes and hate speech following the election of Donald Trump.
Erika Wilson and Christine Blackerby organized the peaceful gathering not to protest “Anti-Trump” or “Pro-Hillary” but to fuel discussion and show support for the oppressed individuals in their community.
“We know that ever since the election, there’s been a lot of incidents of hate and aggression towards all these different kinds of people,” said Wilson. “Immigrants, refugees, Jews, Muslims, women, the disabled, LGBT. And we wanted to get together and to show the community stands up for these people. We will stand up for these people.”
The event included a series of local speakers to address the crowd about their personal experiences, advisement on how to be a better ally, and “actionable information” on how to approach acts of hate.
Kevin Blackerby performed a situational demonstration on how to subdue in-person hatred with the help of children from the audience. He urged the crowd to simply not engage with the person committing the hateful act, but to “step in,” befriend the victim in the situation, and walk away.
Another speaker, Councilmember Patrick Paschall (Ward 3), reminded the residents of Hyattsville of the “longstanding practice” of being a sanctuary city and revealed his efforts with City Council to make this a written policy.
“We are not going to have our local police department ask you whether or not you’re a citizen. We are not going to have our local police department ask you for your green card or papers … And we are not going to report people who aren’t lawfully present to the immigration and customs enforcement,” said Paschall.
Paschall talked about his post-election experience as the executive director of FreeState Justice, a legal organization that helps low-income LGBT Maryland residents.
“We at FreeState Justice have seen a 50 percent increase in the last two weeks in phones calls to our office from people seeking legal help,” said Paschall.
Paschall told an anecdote about a FreeState Justice client who is transgender and on active duty in the military.
“He was afraid. He was afraid of what’s going to happen to his job. And he was afraid of what’s going to happen with his identity documents, post-January 20,” said Paschall. “He wanted to get everything he could in line before threats take place and before there’s a rollback of his rights.”
Resident Jeanette Soon-Ludes of Route 1 Peacemakers spoke on the importance of community planning, organization and orchestration when it comes to events and workshops that deal with open dialogue on race.
“We have so many great ideas on how to foster racial justice in Hyattsville but not enough planners are stepping up … I know Hyattsville can plan things and so let’s take a moment to really think about that,” said Soon-Ludes.
The mayor of Riverdale, Vernon Archer, was also in attendance, speaking out against the recent incidents of hatred in the country.
“Like many of you, I’m still a little bit in shock we gotta be here, that we gotta be doing this. But we do, and thank you for being here,” said Archer.
Archer recognized Riverdale having a history in welcoming newcomers and immigrants to the area over the years. He encouraged the crowd to reach out to one another and welcome those in the community who are looking for a safe haven.
“We can’t kill bigotry. We can’t kill hate. We’re going to have to use love,” said Archer.
Hena Zubari, editor-in-chief of Muslim Matters, spoke on her identity as a Muslim woman and the victimization of her community.
“One hundred hate crimes have been reported against Muslims in just the last 10 days … This is coming from a community that doesn’t like to go to the police, that doesn’t like to report things,” said Zubari. “We need to keep reminding ourselves that this is not normal.”
The list of speakers ended with Christine Blackerby, asking everyone to sign the “Not on Our Watch” banner and pledge to support those who need it.
The event also raised $524 for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) by selling baked goods to those in attendance. The ACLU works to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States.
Local resident Julie Schweitzer, who came prepared with a sign quoting Langston Hughes, said she was in shock and fear about the election results. But she believed lending a voice to speak out against the bad is something everyone can do.
“At the very least, speak up against injustice, suppression, violence, and harassment. … At the very least,” said Schweitzer.
To stay updated on future events, join the Not On Our Watch group. Organizers are also looking for ways to allow those who couldn’t attend Sunday’s event to sign the pledge banner and are working on a plan to showcase the banner publicly.