Friday, August 12, 2005

Thwarted bombing sparks August 13 human rights rally in Morristown

Alianza del Pueblo and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition sent out this press release announcing a human rights rally tomorrow in Morristown, Tennessee:

Morristown, TN Rally for Tolerance Over Hate
Community Calls for Human Rights, Dignity For All
Recent Klansman's "Hate Bombing" Attempt
Just A Beginning If Climate Doesn't Change, Warns Groups

AUG. 13th at 1 pm (Eastern), Hamblen County Courthouse Steps
(511 West 2nd North Street, Morristown, TN 37814)

(Morristown, TN) In an effort to turn back the rising flames of anti-immigrant sentiment that have threatened to engulf the eastern region of the state, community leaders will come together on the Hamblen County Courthouse steps at 1:00 pm on August 13, 2005, to call for tolerance and human rights for local immigrants recently targeted by local anti-immigrant hate groups such as the Tennessee Minutemen and the Ku Klux Klan. Alarmed by recent hate crimes, such as the July indictment of an East Tennessee ex-Klan member who was caught in a plan to plant pipe bombs under buses transporting Hispanic migrant workers (click here for that story), Alianza del Pueblo, a local Hispanic advocacy center, is leading a community effort to demonstrate support for tolerance and diversity over hatred and division. The rally will feature speakers from the immigrant, African American and Native American communities, as well as from the broader Morristown community.

In addition to the recent bombing incident, and the vandalism of a Mexican Grocery store by Neo-Nazi sympathizers in the nearby town of Maryville, there have been reports of Tennessee Minutemen members impersonating police officers, and attempting to turn in Hispanics to local immigration enforcement. There have even been reports of immigrant disappearances, as Morristown Resident Alicia Johnson states, “There are several local Hispanics who recently vanished, and have not been heard from again. They left all their belongings behind, and neither their friends nor families have heard from them since.”

The recent wave of violence, intimidation and anti-immigrant hate speech in the area has horrified many local leaders and the immigrant community, many of whom are now afraid when they go to work or frequent public spaces. "Local Hispanic families are increasingly living in fear," said Santos Aguilar of Alianza del Pueblo. "Immigrants in Tennessee contribute millions of dollars to the state's economy, pay taxes and support local businesses. If you are working hard, and contributing to the community, you shouldn't have to live like this," added Santos. Tennessee is at the center of a national trend in which Southern states have seen the fastest growth in the Hispanic population between 1990 and 2000. These hardworking immigrant families have contributed greatly to Tennessee's robust economy, but often in small towns and rural areas with limited previous experience with immigrants.

In the midst of this chaos, some local public figures are adding fuel to the anti-immigrant fire, choosing political expediency over community cohesion. For example, Hamblen County Commissioner Tom Lowe - who has publicly declared his support for the Tennessee Minutemen on numerous occasions - stated to the Associated Press in late July: "We could be two or three aliens away from an epidemic that would sweep through our county and state." Another political hopeful, Carl "Two Feathers" Whittaker - a self-proclaimed Native American Activist who ran for Governor in 2002 and will be running as a Republican next year - claims to be one of the leaders of the Tennessee Minutemen. Most Native Americans in the state have scorned Mr. Whittaker, and several will be on hand at the rally denouncing Whittaker and the efforts of the Minutemen.

Monica Hernandez, the board president of The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) - one of the many groups participating in the event - is concerned that more violence could follow if the climate doesn't change. As she states:

"TIRRC is dismayed, but not surprised that white supremacist hate groups are adding violence to their repertoire of tactics targeting immigrants and refugees. This is the direct consequence of a massive assault against immigrants that is sweeping the nation and our state. Anti-immigrant rhetoric saturates the airwaves, vigilante groups such as the Minutemen take the law into their own hands and spread fear, and politicians scapegoat immigrants instead of finding real solutions to the country's problems. We are truly fortunate that this incident of violence was deterred, but we may not be as fortunate next time."

Cecilia Muñoz, Vice President of the Office of Research, Advocacy, and Legislation of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the nation's largest Latino advocacy organization, agrees that anti-immigrant hate speech has recently risen at a disturbing rate across the country. She believes that it is crucial for communities across the country, such as Morristown, to unite against hateful rhetoric, and against the violent actions that could follow. As she states, "Tactics like intimidation, violence, threats, and the spread of fear, hatred, and divisiveness are not conducive to the kind of rational, reflective debate that will produce solutions to these complex issues."

NCLR has helped the planners of the event in Tennessee obtain hundreds of white ribbons, which represent opposition to violence and hate against any group, including immigrants. These ribbons will be handed out at the rally, and will be distributed across Tennessee as part of a statewide white ribbon campaign being coordinated by the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

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