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Church leaders denounce hate speech

Local church leaders urged Medford City Council Thursday to rebuke racism and bigotry after anti-Muslim posters and threats against Hispanics surfaced following the presidential election.

"Hate and discrimination thrive where people of goodwill fail to speak out," said Caren Caldwell, associate minister at Medford Congregational United Church of Christ.

Caldwell and six other ministers and pastors wrote a letter to the council urging it to take a stance that hate groups that target Muslims or others in the community aren't welcome in Medford, and that the city stands for diversity and safety for all.

"As faith leaders in the Rogue Valley, we ask Mayor (Gary) Wheeler and the Medford City Council to add your voices to the many residents who have been speaking out against the wave of hate crimes and harassment of people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people, Muslims, Jews and women," Caldwell said.

The council agreed Thursday to draft a resolution condemning racism and bigotry, prompting a round of applause from about 75 people in attendance.

Caldwell said local educators have said that children of color are being harassed at school or on their way to school.

Caldwell said she had participated in a rally last week by Unite Oregon to voice her disgust for anti-Muslim posters in downtown Medford. On Monday, she said the same group with the anti-Muslim posters had plastered two posters on the front doors of her church.

"We responded by putting up our own posters that said, 'Hate has no business here. All are welcome,' " she said.

Unite Oregon, which supports racial justice and other social issues, held the rally after the anti-Muslim posters appeared and after it had received 80 reports of racism and bigotry in the two days after Nov. 8, twice as many as the organization typically receives in a year.

Mayor Gary Wheeler said, "When I heard about the posters, I thought, 'This is not our city.' " 

Wheeler said he would support a resolution that will be brought before the council at its next meeting.

"We can't be silent as a nation," he said. "We cannot be silent as a city."

Councilor Clay Bearnson said, "There is no room for racism or prejudice in any community."

Councilor Chris Corcoran said he agreed with those in the audience, but also pointed out his support for the rights of anyone to say what they want.

"This also reminds me that there is no cure for stupidity," he said.

Gary Petersen, a member of the Baha'is of Medford, encouraged the council to adopt a resolution that would send a message to the community that hate will not be tolerated.

"Such a resolution may not change hardened hearts," he said.

Amiko-Gabriel Blue, a transgender person and a member of the LGBTQ community, said, "Muslims belong here, people of color belong here, and I belong here."

The Rev. Murray Richmond of First Presbyterian Church of Medford said there is a growing cadre of people espousing hate against others.

"You need to make your stance clear that this is not the place for hate," he said.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Amiko-Gabriel Blue makes a statement to the Medford City Council concerning recent reports of racism and bigotry in the city. - Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch