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It began in Billings, Montana, in the fall of It started with hate-filled fliers slipped into newspapers, stuffed into mailboxes, tucked under windshields. Then, on December 2,the hatred turned into violence. Someone hurled a cinderblock through 's bedroom window.
Taped to the window was a paper menorah to commemorate Chanukah, a Jewish holiday. The hate-filled fliers marked the start of a campaign to make Montana and other western states a "white homeland.
As the attacks escalated, people in Billings began to take a new look at their community and themselves. This is the story of what they saw and what they did. The s were years of turmoil in the United States. Much of that turmoil centered around issues of "race. After months of work, the commissioners concluded that the United States was moving toward two societies: "one black, one white, separate and unequal.
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A series of events in Montana in suggests how far the nation has come. It also reveals how far the nation has yet to go. Injournalist Claire Safran reported:. In the weeks that followed, several Billings residents-inspired by the Coalition for Human Rights-took action against racism.
When skinhe showed up at services of the African Methodist Episcopal Wayman Chapel, small groups of white Christians appeared in response. They sat with the congregation until the skinhe stopped coming. In October an interracial couple awoke one morning to find crude words and a swastika spray-painted on their house. Three days later, volunteers from the local painters union repaired the damage.
But with the arrival of the holiday season, the hate incidents turned violent.
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In late November a beer bottle was thrown through the window of a Jewish home. And then, on the night of December 2, the Schnitzer home was attacked. As Tammie spoke with the police officer who'd arrived at her home, she swung between fear and outrage. He agreed and advised her to take down the Chanukah decorations and avoid leaving the children with a babysitter.
Lying in bed that night, sleepless, Tammie thought how ironic it was that the attack on her home had occurred because of Chanukah-a holiday commemorating the Jews' fight thousands of years ago to worship God in their own way. She told him how troubled she was by the officer's advice.
She tried to imagine telling her daughter, Siri, then 6, that they could not have a Christmas tree, or explaining to Charlie, then 3, that they had to take a wreath off the door because it wasn't safe. Margaret phoned her pastor, Keith Torney. If we told people to put them up in their windows? That week hundreds of menorahs appeared in the windows of Christian homes in Billings.
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We put our menorah in a living room window, and made sure nobody sat in front of it. It was putting ourselves in danger," she says. Local businesses also distributed photocopies of menorahs, and one put a message on a billboard, proclaiming. No Hate, No Violence. Peace on Earth.
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Glass panes on the doors of the Evangelical United Methodist Church, graced with two menorahs, were smashed. Someone fired shots into a Catholic school that had ed the crusade. Six cars parked in front of homes that displayed menorahs had their windows kicked out; the homeowners received phone calls that told them to "Go look at your car, Jew-lover.
Hundreds of menorahs grew to be thousands. It's estimated that as many as 6, homes in Billings had menorahs on display. The people of Billings kept their menorahs up until the New Year. As lnman says, "The haters could attack a couple of Jewish homes.
They could make a second wave of attacks on Christian homes and churches But they could not target thousands of menorahs. Confronted by a united town, the Ku Klux Klan and skinhe backed off. The acts of vandalism stopped, the hate literature disappeared, and the anonymous calls ended.
But with no witnesses and no strong le, the police were never able to make any arrests, a fact that leaves the community extremely uneasy. The town continues to stand together. In April [of ] more than Christians ed the Jewish community for a Seder, the traditional Passover meal. Not long after, hundreds attended a concert of Jewish music that the Schnitzers helped coordinate to show their appreciation to Billings.
Tammie Schnitzer and Margaret MacDonald are busy organizing meetings and speaking at schools about racial sensitivity. With Chanukah just a few weeks away, they're stepping up their activities and are working on combined holiday events for the temple and local churches. Soon Tammie's going to be putting up her Chanukah decorations. But I know if something happened again, the community would respond.
He found that many of them were assessing their attitudes and beliefs as a result of the menorah campaign. Wayne Inman told Rosenblatt that although there were no African Americans or Jews in his hometown, he grew up hearing racial slurs. It was as common as the sun coming up in the morning. Nobody ever confronted the issue. It was "normal. When you have a person present, not just a word, you see that you're talking about a human being whose skin is black.
I saw that for myself. I saw the hurt and pain in his eyes. It became a very personal issue for me. Others in the community wondered if the same response would have been accorded a black or Hispanic family. The Schnitzers are Jewish, but they are also white, middle-class citizens. Some felt that putting up a menorah was "relatively painless for the community.
And there is discussion, as well, about the difference between encouraging diversity in the community and opposing bigotry. Several evangelical churches did not participate in the menorah movement because it was led by the Human Rights Coalition, whose support of homosexual rights they do not endorse.
Sarah Anthony, a member of Human Rights Coalition, reflected on the struggle and why it matters to her. She told the reporter:.
I mean, what have we done so far? Come up with a plan. Make a few phone calls. Put up menorahs. That's all we did. Pretty simple stuff, actually. But you have to build the sentiment, to forge the real feeling that goes deep. We did something right here, and we will do it again if we have to.
If we don't, there are people who would break every window in Billings, and we would look in those windows and see ourselves. For nearly fifteen years we have seen how communities across the country and around the world have been inspired by the actions of Black women billings mont seeking white men in Billings. Civic leaders, citizens, students and teachers have taken this story of resistance to hate and intolerance and made it their own.
Jim Hunt, president of the National League of Cities, believes that one of the keys to opposing hate crimes is working to prevent them in the first place. We have to be out there on a daily basis; we have to be working in communities; we have to be doing education.
An excerpt from the critically acclaimed PBS special tells the uplifting story of how the residents of Billings, Montana, ed together to combat a series of hate crimes in Doing something that you know others are doing all over the country makes you feel stronger. In Bloomington, Illinois, "Not in Our Town" became the town motto: An official road was erected with a red circle containing a slash over the word "racism," followed by the phrase "Not in Our Town.
Police officers wore "Not in Our Town" buttons on their lapels as they ed the mayor in a protest against racial hatred and church burnings around the country.
Resource Library. Add or Edit Playlist. Injournalist Claire Safran reported: On a quiet evening in Billings, Montana, early [in December of ], a stranger arrived at the home of Tammie and Brian Schnitzer. He stole across the lawn, a cinder block in hand. He stopped at a window decorated with Star of David decals and a menorah, the nine-branched candelabra that is the symbol of the Jewish festival of Chanukah Then he hurled the stone, sending tagged shards of glass into the bedroom of Isaac, 5.
By chance, the little boy wasn't there. He'd been in the family room watching TV with his 2-year-old sister, Rachel, and a babysitter. They heard the crash, but when the sitter searched for a cause, she missed the broken window.