The Power of Not In Our Town
In February a Muslim boy in Texas had his jaw broken by a fellow student who called him "terrorist." In March guests of a hotel in Florida requested they not be served by anyone of color. And in April two Oregon college students scrawled homophobic graffiti on a dorm wall.
The Department of Justice estimates that close to 191,000 hate-based incidents occur in the United States each year. But some people are unwilling to tolerate intolerance—and this spring their cause got a major boost when an organization called Not in Our Town launched Niot.org, a website that provides ordinary citizens with tools to combat hate in their area. In just a few months, the site has helped nearly 40 Not in Our Town groups form across the country. "People understand that we can't just look away," says project cofounder Patrice O'Neill.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the first Not in Our Town documentary, which gave rise to the namesake organization and a series of PBS specials. The series spotlights communities like Billings, Montana, where residents of all faiths united in response to the breaking of a window displaying a menorah by hanging pictures of menorahs in their own windows; and Bloomington, Illinois, where people marched in protest of African-American churches destroyed by arson in the South.
Niot.org has become a clearinghouse for similar stories. The war against hate isn't over, but Not in Our Town is arming citizens to win it one battle at a time. — Katie Arnold-Ratliff