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DAVENPORT — Hate and bigotry are not welcome in the Quad-Cities.

To counteract growing incidence of hate crimes and speech, a new campaign was launched Thursday to encourage local businesses to display “We Welcome All People” signs.

The signs aim to reflect the community’s commitment to diversity and openness to customers of all backgrounds, including race, ethnicity, country of origin, age, religion, gender and sexual identities.

“Encroachments on the rights and freedoms of any of us affects all of us,” said Rev. Rich Hendricks of Metropolitan Community Church of the Quad Cities who started One Human Family QCA with Rabbi Henry Karp in 2016.

“We must stand together,” he said. “We are, in fact, one human family. There is no ‘other’; it’s a myth. We are all part of the same species.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate our individuality and our diversity,” he said. “It does mean we are here to support each other. We are stronger and better as a community when we are diverse and inclusive.”

Hendricks said it has become fashionable in some circles to “other,” or put down people of “fill in the blank” — African-Americans, Muslims, Jews, gays, trans people and women. But human rights are universal, he said; they go beyond partisan political arguments.”

Hendricks urged people to speak out and organize.

“Bullies thrive when good people are intimidated from acting,” he said. “But the reverse is also true — where people speak out, and act out of kindness, inclusivity and love, bullies fear to raise their ugly head.”

Karp, rabbi emeritus of Davenport’s Temple Emanuel, said the FBI reported 7,175 hate crimes nationwide in 2017, a 17 percent increase, the biggest surge since 2001.

“Hate crimes against Jews rose 37 percent,” he said, noting the Oct. 27 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, which killed 11 people, was the deadliest anti-Semitic attack on U.S. soil.

The Quad-Cities has seen few actual hate crimes, he said. But the National Alliance, called the most organized and dangerous hate group in America, has been actively recruiting in the area, Karp said.

This week, he said, One Human Family received reports of Moline and Rock Island neighborhoods targeted with flyers by local members of the white-supremacist group.

Karp said that, on Wednesday night, he received an email from Rock Island Ald. David Geenen, 7th Ward, stating the mother of a biracial child had reported hate flyers in a neighborhood near the Tri-City Jewish Center.

At Thursday’s news conference in Scott Community College’s downtown Davenport Urban Campus, Karp read the flyer that said, in part, that “no multi-racial society is a healthy society.”

“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” Karp said, quoting civil-rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The One Human Family signs, he said, will be “a source of light.”

About two years ago, the nonprofit group created a red, white and blue yard sign with a similar message of acceptance in Spanish, English and Arabic. More than 1,500 of the signs have been given out, according to the group.

The white-supremacist flyers are protected by the freedom of speech, Karp said.

“We respond by using our freedom of speech, by making statements throughout the community, showing that this is a community which embraces diversity,” he said.

Becky Dawson, the owner of SIS International Fair Trade Center at 108 E. 2nd St., Davenport, has a business welcoming sign on display. Free signs of varying signs can be picked up at SIS International, the Chamber's Moline and Davenport offices and the Metropolitan Community Church, 2930 W. Locust St., Davenport.

“This is so exciting; I’ve had so many businesses ask me, why are you doing this? Aren’t you afraid?” Dawson said. “No. Absolutely not. This is a message that needs to come out. We need everybody.”

Dawson said she’s seen people take pictures of the sign and share them.

“It’s OK to say, ‘We need you and we want you. You are us,’” she said.

Chamber President/CEO Paul Rumler recently posted one of the signs at the entrance of the organization’s office at 1601 River Drive, Moline. Greg Aguilar, director of the Chamber’s Q2030 regional action plan, said the group has a “welcoming and inclusive” work group to promote diversity.

“We are going to set a tone in our region, letting everyone know we truly value inclusion and will work to ensure we have equitable opportunities for all Quad Citizens,” Aguilar said.

“People want to move to diverse places that are welcoming,” saix Jack Cullen, Q2030 project manager. “That’s what makes a cool community.”

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Reporter

Jonathan is a reporter for the Dispatch-Argus-QCOnline.com.

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