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Unfurling banners of racial tolerance

Human rights institute creates flags it hopes will establish hate-free zones

Human rights activists in Coeur d’Alene have decided to fight flags with flags.

For months, people have been walking into the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d’Alene asking what they can do about two nearby residences flying white supremacist flags, said Rachel Dolezal, the institute’s education director.

The institute’s staff and volunteers brainstormed a response and decided to create a flag of their own, this one emblazoned with a human rights message. They are encouraging residents to fly the flags in their neighborhoods and use them to establish “hate-free zones” throughout the region.

Last Tuesday, a noose was found hanging from the rafters of a carport at Dolezal’s downtown Coeur d’Alene home, underlining to her the importance of taking a stand. It was the second time in less than a year she has been targeted in that manner. This noose was discovered by her 16-year-old brother, visiting from Chicago, and her 8-year-old son, both of whom are black.

“Hate crimes directed toward kids are particularly offensive because of the vulnerability of the child,” said Dolezal. In September, when Dolezal was living in north Spokane, a noose was left on her doorstep. Both incidents were reported to police, but no arrests have been made.

The hate crime was the latest in a series of racial harassment and assaults that have plagued North Idaho and Spokane for the past couple of years. A swastika sticker was stuck on the door of the education institute. Swastikas were spray-painted on the cars of two Coeur d’Alene residents, one a man of Jordanian descent, the other at the home of a woman who regularly has black friends visiting. Hispanic, black and Native American men have reported being racially assaulted and harassed.

“We need to make a community statement that there are many people who support equality,” Dolezal said. “That’s what the flags are for.”

The flags, which were printed before Dolezal discovered the second noose, are big and bright. On the upper left corner, they display the education institute’s logo – one person reaching out to help another. The education institute is ordering them from a print shop in Hayden and selling them at cost, $20 each.

“It turns something that’s really negative into a positive,” Dolezal said. “I think there’s power in collective action.”

White supremacy flags have been flown for months from a house on the 1900 block of East Front Avenue in Coeur d’Alene. In addition, similar flags recently were flown from a rental house at 2002 E. Sherman Ave. Coeur d’Alene police Sgt. Christie Wood said police received several complaints about the flags on East Sherman, which is the main street through downtown. However, she said, it appears those people have moved.

“They lived in there for a month,” Wood said. “Within that month, we were called four different times by people complaining about the flags.”

The education institute has sold one human rights flag so far, and five others have been ordered, Dolezal said. In addition, the Latah County Human Rights Task Force heard of the campaign and wants to help, said Joann Muneta, the chairwoman.

Said Muneta, “We want to be a hate-free zone too.”



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