Not in Our Community – Post Event Debrief

Event Goals

To respond to acts of hate in Ferndale; to give voice to the pain, struggle, and resilience of minority populations; and to show each other that we are not alone. 

To gather a like-minded Ferndale community in a safe space where experiences, concerns, and ideas can be shared openly and without criticism. 

To generate next steps to share with the larger community that will counter hate, and that will promote a stronger, more resilient, and more caring Ferndale where we take actions that show we value unity, diversity, kindness, and inclusion.

 

Event Reflection

We are grateful that so many neighbors came with open hearts and minds to learn from each other about how to create a more inclusive Ferndale community. People attending expressed that, in general, the above goals were met. The event was beyond capacity, and people shared openly and came up with ideas for next steps. Many attendees expressed that it felt like the beginning of something that should continue on to make countering hate an intentional, continuous process in Ferndale. 

However, we did not reach our goal around providing a safe space for everyone. A silent incident unfolded that violated the safe space and caused immediate distress to one attendee in particular, and to others at their table. As events unfolded, more and more people became aware. There are some things we would do differently before, during, and after such an incident. 

 

What happened? 

The event was well beyond capacity–about 100 in attendance, 25 outside listening through the open door, and another 30 or so turned away. The event began with an introduction denouncing hate, and calling on people to stand together and take positive action when incidents like the one in Ferndale occur. There were several strong speakers, representing diverse perspectives in Ferndale and Whatcom County. All spoke powerfully from their experiences. We then broke into small groups around three questions–what resonated from the speakers, when have we seen or experienced white supremacy in this county, and what next steps could people in Ferndale take to continue working towards a future that values unity and diversity. Discussion was frank and built community bonds.  

About an hour into the meeting, while people were deeply engaged in small group work, Michael, a white person wearing American flag pants and a MAGA hat, who also indicated he was deaf, and his young child entered the event—This was despite a whole group of people talking with them outside, including an ASL interpreter, and telling him that they could not go in because it was beyond capacity. 

Michael immediately sat down near the door next to Denyce, who is black and deaf.  There was a mix of deaf and hearing people at the table. There was an ASL interpreter at the table.  Michael immediately started making racist comments in ASL about black people and gun violence. At one point, he said black people were bad while he pointed to Denyce.  This was very upsetting for her and she got up and left. The whole exchange was very fast paced and the interpreter could not keep up with what was said. The hearing folks at the table were not fully aware of what was being said. One of about 10 peacekeepers at the event then came in from outside and told the aggressor that he needed to leave. It was at that point that several board members became aware of the aggressor’s presence, due to the silent nature of what occurred. The aggressor was surrounded by peacekeepers and escorted outside and away from the door, with an interpreter in the group, and they went through deescalation with him. 

Denyce came back in, eventually.  She was understandably shaken, hurt, and angry. She and others at the table spoke up and told everyone what happened during the whole group share out. Event planners and peacekeepers realized at that point that we all had only parts of the story until Denyce and others filled in all the pieces. Of course, most people were shocked and saddened by what happened in what was meant to have been a safe space. The community of people present attempted to offer comfort to Denyce and console her. 

We wish we had provided even more time for people to speak about and process what happened, and we feel we moved on in the discussion too quickly. We were all in shock.  The incident made it even more obvious to all present, that there is a real need for continued and increased efforts to counter hate with love both locally, and across the County. We apologized profusely to Denyce and others, and met with all the affected individuals at that table at length, listening to feelings and feedback, and offering our support.

Our primary concern is for Denyce. We wish we could rewind time and prevent the harm. Since that is not possible, we have reached out to Denyce at the event and after, apologizing, offering support, and asking if she would like to have a voice here. Here is a response from Denyce. 


Transcript
Denyce asked us to convey that English is not her first language.

“Hello! My name is Denyce Acquah. My sign name is Denyce on my right heart area. The event is called Hate No Home Here. Umm, on Tuesday August 21st at evening in the Ferndale at library. Really what happen was last week Tuesday, ummm lady explain started group and white woman invite me to the table same where I was sit and I joined with them. The white in the group and explain to follow the question on the paper. People had turned until  me. Michael joined with us and two people. Actually one person after me then I expand what my prefer which is Ashanti Monts-Treviska, white supremacist, racism, dismantle. Michael ask the question then Michael said white supremacist, black supremacist then put his finger at to point at me then black shooting, white shooting, black bad. I decided to leave. After meeting, I went to outside. I was cried and in the begin and I was ready to leave somehow.. A person in my way, barrier and try to hug me. I push that person away then the person still continue there and tried hug me again. I push away and I told that person I am leave then that person moved. I went to outside and I was cried and I told Xio what is the fuck there. Xio said come back inside. I was not really calm then that the person  and group discussion, that person got turn then I am next turn, I said and told them where is need their help while Michael said, person watch, interpreter and them white don’t even intervention. All white and I am only one black. I don’t felt safe space. Once a person said and do the intervene and don’t wait until after.”

 

What did we learn from the event and the incident?

We learned that the small group discussions allowed people to get to know each other and share more freely until the event was disrupted. In the whole group share out, there were powerful personal examples shared, and strong ideas about how to move forward. 

At the same time, there were several challenges. The first was that we learned we need to work with the deaf community to plan how to better prepare for disruptions and how to deal with this person in the future. We learned that the aggressor is well known in the deaf community for causing problems. The second challenge was around having more clearly defined roles for the peacekeepers, more practice, and more training for people helping—we have come up with a detailed response and plans for modifications in the future.

 

What did we do prior to the event to consider physical and emotional safety?

Despite having no indication the event might be disrupted, Riveters did our best to plan ahead to prevent any incident. We were aware that, nationally, peaceful events against hate sometimes experience counter protesters and other disruptions. Our event had been featured in several news outlets including The Bellingham Herald and on King5 News, which heightened the profile of the event, and therefore, the need to plan. 

In order to prepare, we took numerous actions. We had several lengthy meetings around safety. We made a detailed safety plan which we all reviewed on the day of the event. We had yellow cards for people to hold up in the discussions if they began to feel concerned.  We recruited several trained peacekeepers as well as observers from the lawyers guild. We closed one entrance and arranged sign-in tables outside the event so that people would need to pass through that area first, before entering. 

We met with the police chief and lieutenant, before the event, and on the evening of the event we met with the officers themselves, in both instances this included asking them to be sensitive around our event to the fact that not all people feel safer when police are present.   We had law enforcement on site, but at a distance, so that people who do not always feel safer around law enforcement officers would be more comfortable, and the officers would still be nearby in case we needed them.  

We had another safety meeting just prior to the event, including board members, peacekeepers, and legal observers, and made sure we all understood the plan. 

As the event itself  began, we addressed with all those who were attending the event, briefly explaining our safety plan and a plan for what we would do if disrupted–attempt to get the person to leave, and if we could not, then disperse the event. 

And yet, our detailed plan failed to prevent a person from entering and doing emotional harm. The fact that we were unable to prevent harm is something we are all still processing. 

 

A final note

We believe the event met its purpose in that it helped unify many of the people of Ferndale and Whatcom County as they countered hate with love. We believe it was important that people took a stand and sent the clear message that white supremacy is unacceptable and cannot go unchallenged. We were heartened to see that so many attended and that people were planning to continue the work. 

At the same time, we take full responsibility for our part in things not going as planned. We will continue to learn and grow from what happened. We will do our best to do better the next time we have a large public event. 

We would like to offer sincere apologies to those harmed, most especially to Denyce, who was targeted.

We would like to share our appreciation of all the Ferndale and Whatcom County attendees who stood up against hate, and who will continue the work. We offer our deep gratitude for the commitment and dedication of the speakers, volunteers, library staff, peacekeepers, legal observers, police officers, and to the local businesses and community members who participated in speaking out against hate and spreading the message about the Not In Our Community event. Thank you to all who supported this event.

 

Sincerely, 

Riveters Collective