VIDEO: From the ashes of a murder rises a movement of hope

It wasn’t that long ago that Kansas legislator Virgil Peck said undocumented immigrants should be shot from helicopters. That may be an extreme view, at least so publicly expressed by someone so prominent, but almost every day someone on talk radio says something nearly as offensive.

One group, Not In Our Town, says enough is enough. They’ve filmed a documentary about a town in New York, Patchogue, which saw anti-immigrant anger go beyond rhetoric, culminating in a random murder. After the murder, the town came together, essentially to say, “not in our town”.

The film will be shown on Denver KRMA September 21 at 10 pm. Numerous community organizations around the state have also organized screenings, generally to be followed by discussion.

See a teaser here:

The Not In Our Town movement began before Patchogue, back in the 1990s when a Jewish family in Billings, Montana had a brick thrown through their window, which had displayed a menorah. The town came together after that, with people of different faiths, or no faith, placing menorahs in their own windows as signs of tolerance and solidarity. Billings became the subject of the first Not In Our Town film in 1995.

“People in Billings came together to talk about their commonalities,” said Patrice O’Neill, executive producer and CEO, NIOT.

More recently, she said she started hearing stories about anti-immigrant hate crimes and what people are doing about it. “Most people are in denial about the hateful rhetoric regarding immigrants, and a surprising number of communities actually seem to support such anger,” she said.

When the young immigrant was killed in New York, though, it shocked the community into action and what happened next became the subject of the new film.

“We are trying to address the climate of hatred in so many communities, Rabbi Jack Moline, board member of the Interfaith Alliance, told The Colorado Independent. “The tensions between these groups have to be addressed,” he said. “Hate crimes take place in communities between individual people,” he said. “These crimes are not committed by national groups, but by people. The mayor of Patchogue understood that he had to put a face on people, not just identify them by their race or religion.

“Every hour in this country there is a hate crime committed that affects somebody–not because of what they have done, but because of who they are, because of how they came into this world,” Moline said.

Jessica Gonzales, vice president of policy and legal affairs at the National Hispanic Media Coalition, agreed with Moline that the path away from hate begins with seeing each person as an individual. “You have to put a face on people, everyone has to be treated with dignity as a person. I’m excited for this film to start local conversations.”

Grand Junction is one place that hopes this film can start a local conversation. It will be shown at the Mesa County Central Library, 530 Grand Avenue, at 6 pm Monday, Sept. 19.

“We are working to change the dialogue around immigrants to one of respect and dignity,” said Karen Sherman Perez, coordinator of Welcoming Colorado, a branch of Welcoming America.

“We are trying to make Grand Junction a more welcoming place. The tragedy in the film is something we hope to never see here,” she said. “People always think ‘this couldn’t happen here’ but you need for people to connect person to person and that is why we are doing this,” she said.

“These kinds of conversations are what make us safe,” said Paul Sheridan, with the district attorneys office in Charleston, WV.

Jim Hunt, who is on the city council in Charleston, noted that there will be a Ku Klux Klan rally in Charleston right before the film is screened this weekend.

Sheridan, echoing a theme from the film, said the majority of hate crimes are not committed by hate groups, but by random teenagers who have heard the hateful rhetoric and taken it to heart. “They absorb the hateful talk and then they act on it. When a hate crime occurs, you aren’t looking for a Klan member or a hate group or an extremist, you’re looking for a teenager or a neighbor.”

Gonzales pins some of the crimes against immigrants on the passage of anti-immigration laws. “People who in the past didn’t feel free to vocalize their hate, now feel free to do so,” she said.

The film will also be screened in Golden, at the Jefferson Unitarian Church, 14350 W 32nd Ave. at 7 pm Tuesday, Sept. 27.

Pam Benedict, chair of an immigration task force at the church, said the church will show the film more than once if the demand is high enough, and that the general public is welcome. There are expected to be showings in Fort Collins, Denver and Boulder as well.

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