In a Climate of Fear and Attacks, Diverse Communities Gather and Launch Hate-Free Zone in Queens


In a Climate of Fear and Attacks, Diverse Communities Gather and Launch Hate-Free Zone in Queens


December 1, 2016 - On Friday, December 2 at 5:30PM EST, immigrant communities launched  a community defense and “Hate-Free Zone” in Jackson Heights, New York City.

Neighborhood-based groups held a press conference and march through the heart of Queens (in Jackson Heights, Woodside, Elmhurst, and Corona), some of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country and home to working-class immigrant, Muslim, LGBTQ, Latino, South Asian and Filipino communities, to begin the process of building community-wide defense systems to protecting themselves.

Nearly a thousand individuals, including Immigrant, Muslim, Jewish, LGBTQ, Latino, South Asian, Filipino, Asian, Black organizations based in Queens, local elected officials, and community members, gathered in Diversity Plaza, Jackson Heights and spoke on the way different communities would be impacted by the policies of hate of the incoming Trump administration, and of the danger posed by groups and individuals motivated by hate. Each one of the speakers pledged to building a “Hate Free Zone” in Queens, and to build communities that “Love And Protect Each Other”.

Poonam, a Youth Leader at Desis Rising Up & Moving spoke about her experience as an undocumented youth who gained protection under DACA, the relief program immigrant rights groups nation-wide fought for and which Trump has promised to cancel: My family considered New York City our home and we have settled in a community where diversity is supposed to be accepted. However the current political climate has increased the uncertainty and fear in all of our communities. From threats of mass deportations to Muslim registries to forced internment-- we have all been here before!  All of our communities have been at the forefront of fighting for our existence and humanity and it is no different now! Our communities are resilient and that is why we are here today!  We will not let each other be targeted or separated by hateful policies and practices.  We are all here united and pledge to love and protect each other and to make our communities and neighborhoods as “Hate Free Zones.”

A Hate-Free Zone is when community members, local businesses, faith institutions, elected officials are coming together to publicly take a stand against hate, marginalization, criminalization and violence by individuals and state institutions.

Rahim Howlader, a Jackson Heights community member pledged his business as a Hate Free Zone, “Small businesses know that we are successful only because of our workers, our customers, and our communities. As a business owner, I am proud to declare my business as a Hate Free Zone! And I commit to encouraging other businesses in this neighborhood to do the same! We stand united!”

Josselyn Atahualpa of Justice Committee spoke about what building community safety would mean in the future months, Now more than ever, we need to love and protect each other. We need to develop and use community safety methods that don’t rely on the police or the state and we need to work together to ensure we can all stay, live and thrive in our neighborhoods. We are committed to working with you all to achieve this vision, because it’s a matter of life and death.”

Chelo Silva, a transgender man and former detainee from Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, reminded everyone that many have been already been impacted by pro-enforcement and pro-criminalization policies under the Obama administration, and now more than every is the time to be organized,  “Hundreds of people are deported every day. They do not get the right to defend themselves, the right to get help, the right to look for options so that they can fight from the outside but being inside the country. We should not remain with our arms crossed, we must seek help, trust in community organizations.”

Deb Lolai of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice spoke about how allies have an important role to play in building a community defense that doesn’t rely on law enforcement : “History supports the need for these Hate free zones; History has proven that we cannot depend on the state to keep us safe; AND History has proven that any power we give to the criminal legal system will ALWAYS harm communities of color. So, if we cannot depend on the state, and if we cannot depend on the police, or prosecutors, or judges, WHO THEN CAN WE DEPEND ON? We can and we MUST depend on each other. On our communities and our allies who stand with us in solidarity. We must be accountable to one another.”

Following the press conference, groups marched from Jackson Heights to Corona, with banners displaying images of ants holding up hearts to represent the enormous collective power of small creatures acting in large and organized numbers. Waving glo-sticks in the air, they cried chants in English, Bangla, Urdu, and Spanish and Tagalog that uplifted community power in the face of hatred, and a commitment to fight for and with each other: “Here To Stay, Here to Fight!” Participants engaged passerbys in the march staying on the sidewalk and and handing out flyers which explained the intention behind the march and ways for  community members to get involved, including joining community organizations fighting for peoples’ rights and putting up “Hate-Free Zone” stickers in local businesses.

Over 100 New York City-based community organizations, faith-based groups, institutions and City Council Representatives co-sponsored and endorsed the Hate Free Zone action. As frontline communities who are looking for ways to come together to defend themselves and gain mutual support in light of increased racism, xenophobia, and bigotry ushered in by the incoming Trump administration, groups intend for this action to jumpstart similar efforts in immigrant neighborhoods across the city and nationwide to declare neighborhoods as "Hate-Free Zones".