Residents in Brattleboro, VT, Confront the Threat of Hate Violence
By Patrice O’Neill, NIOT.org
It was the worst kind of nightmare for the mother of a biracial high school student.
In June 2008, the people of Brattleboro, Vermont, learned that a racist youth group called NHRN (N---- Hating Red Necks) was active in the local high school. The leader of the group, Larry Pratt, Jr. was arrested after waving a weapon at a multiracial group of students near the high school. Pratt and several other members of the group were suspended from Brattleboro Union High School and placed in a restorative justice program. But the alarm bells were ringing for parent and musician Barbara Holliday.
“It was the most visible in a long line of incidents, and the potential of violence was evident,” said Holliday, mother of a biracial daughter attending Brattleboro Union High School. “Flyers from David Duke’s organization started appearing in surrounding neighborhoods. [Graffiti-drawn] nooses were on road signs. The young people [in NHRN] had nearly 30 members on their Facebook account, and some had tattoos on their knuckles formalizing their relationship to this racist group.”
Holliday believed that the incident and the organizing efforts of white supremacists in the community required a larger response.
She contacted The Working Group’s Not In Our Town Project for advice about starting a NIOT response. She began circulating the Not In Our Town films to the local library, Boys and Girls Clubs, and arranged regular broadcasts of the Billings story on the local cable channel.
Holliday found allies in her efforts to fight hate, including with the local civil rights community group ALANA and the Interfaith Clergy Association. Curtiss Reed Jr., executive director of ALANA, helped set up NIOT screenings and cosponsored with the Brattleboro Area Interfaith Clergy Association a series of “Conversations on Race”.
At the community’s annual July 4th parade, ALANA made a public appeal for residents to join their 100-person contingent marching behind the banner “Hate Has No Home Here.” Among those who answered the call was the Brattleboro and Guilford Select Boards, Brattleboro Town Manager Barbara Sondag, many of Brattleboro's church groups, from the Methodists to the Baha'is and the Unitarians, and the Brattleboro Union High School marching band.
In the middle of the community’s efforts to confront hate in their town, Margaret MacDonald, a leader of the Not In Our Town Movement in Billings, Montana, sent a message to the people in Brattleboro:
I have been reading with a sinking heart about the activities in Brattleboro, and my sympathies go out to the community as it struggles with hate groups cropping up among the youth of the city. Billings was in a very similar state of consternation and dismay back in 1993, when we began to organize the community to confront this phenomenon in ways that were creative, but firm … What you are doing is a defining moment in the history of your community and I wish you every blessing.
Lise Sparrow, Pastor of a UCC Church in Guilford, VT, circulated the message from MacDonald to local faith leaders, along with the Not In Our Town films.
“There’s a sense of isolation until you realize these incidents are part of a bigger picture,” said Sparrow. “Margaret MacDonald’s comment really hit home for people.”
“These issues fester. And if children see their parents ignoring these incidents, it gives them sanction.
Holliday still believes there is much work to do in Brattleboro to prevent hate in the future. “Everybody wants it to go away, but we have to acknowledge it, we have to stay active,” she said.