One of the flyers that have appeared on lawn signs and windshields. Image by Erin Palmer used with permission.

A rash of hateful flyers denigrating illegal immigration and DC's status as a sanctuary city has popped up in Brightwood and Takoma, but neighborhood residents and elected officials have been quick to condemn the signs, and some neighbors are fighting back with messages of love written on sidewalks in chalk.

The flyers were first reported on car windshields in the Safeway parking lot on Piney Branch Road NW last Wednesday, as well as wheat pasted to light posts, a utility box, and two bus stops on Georgia Avenue at Underwood and Van Buren streets. Friday, more flyers were found on car windshields on neighborhood streets, including on Fern, Whittier, and 6th streets, and outside of St. Mark's Baptist Church.

Image by Scott Knickerbocker used with permission.

Activity like this hinders a sense of place and the vibrance of the public realm in an urban neighborhood. As neighbors have shown, diversity, walkability, and public transit are huge assets to their neighborhood -- and are all aspects they have been diminished by the hateful flyers. This not only makes community members feel unsafe, but can also hurt the small businesses in the area that are minority and immigrant owned.

But community members are standing strong against the unwelcome flyers, organizing several efforts to counteract their message and express that, with immigrants making up 26% of DC's total workforce, Ward 4 is a place where all are welcome. Residents have organized to collect and remove over 70 of the flyers so far. One neighbor has committed to donate $1 to Ayuda or CASA for every flyer found. 

Takoma Parents Action Coalition has been using sidewalk chalk since Wednesday to counter the messages as well, including an event Saturday morning.

“We went out with our kids and wrote messages of love and welcoming throughout the neighborhood on Wednesday, right after the first round of flyers were found," said community member Ruth Osorio. "We wanted to let our neighbors know that the flyers do not represent our values as a community and that we will not stand for hate speech or attacks against our neighbors and loved ones. Our community's strength is our diversity. I love raising my daughter in a neighborhood where different languages are spoken and families celebrate different traditions.”

Other neighbors are planning a potluck, to make sure everyone has a safe space to come and meet neighbors.

Image by NEED PHOTO CREDIT used with permission.

ANC Commission Scot Knickerbocker (4B03) recognized the challenge of responding to the hate messaging without giving it more visibility than it deserved. “One worries about giving voice to anyone responsible for this," he says, "but it's important to make people aware of this situation - not to spread these words of hate, but so that people know it's happening all over. Instead we need to expose and root out this hatred and let those responsible know that we won't stand for it.”

Friday morning, Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd responded to the incidents on Facebook.

What to do if you see hate or bias messages

If you see these or other hate or bias messages, you can report them by calling or visiting a Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) district station or calling DC's Hate Crimes Hotline at (202) 727-0500. Callers may report incidents anonymously. (If you leave a contact number, someone will return the call the next business day.) In a statement, Mayor Bowser urged anyone who sees the flyers to call 911.

Aimee Custis is a wonk, communicator, and deputy director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Her writing represents her own views, though they’re often aligned with her employer’s. Weekends, you’ll find Aimee at home in Dupont Circle or practicing her other love, wedding photography.

Melissa Lindsjo works in the Community Planning Division of Prince George’s County for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. She loves all things walkable and local. She lives in Brightwood Park.