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After divisive presidential election, groups in Southwest Florida hope for tolerance

By Maryann Batlle, For Naples News, On 17 November 2016, Read Original
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Violette Damo, 6, helps lay out flowers in the shape

Violette Damo, 6, helps lay out flowers in the shape of a heart at the Estero Community Park in Estero, Fla., on Nov. 12, 2016. People met at the park to write on sidewalks with chalk and lay flowers to spread awareness on what a Trump presidency might mean for religious tolerance. Logan Newell/Special to The Naples News


The loveliness of a flower on a green stem can be a balm for the suffering human heart.

Flowers can represent feelings, such as friendship or love. Days after the divisive U.S. presidential election, they stood for tolerance.

A handful of friends, who had searched for ways to reaffirm tolerance as a value in their children, brought flowers to Estero Community Park on Saturday, just before sunset.

Under trees, on a grassy piece of flat land, the children and adults fashioned daisies, carnations and lilies into the shape of a heart. They used chalk to write messages on nearby sidewalks, including "All are welcome here."

There are people who might feel anxious, uncertain or even afraid after the election, said Rachel Revehl, a Lee County resident and mother of two.

"We are all a little fragile and a little on edge. And we felt it was important to reach out," Revehl said. "We are going to get through this."

The 2016 election ended with a win for Republican Donald Trump, who surpassed the 270 votes he needed from the Electoral College to become president. Democrat Hillary Clinton leads the nationwide popular vote by at least 1 million ballots but failed to clinch the state-by-state support of the Electoral College, which is required by the Constitution.

Civil rights groupsDemocrats and members of his own party have blamed Trump for stoking angry nationalist sentiments during his campaign. His recent appointment of Stephen K. Bannon to the role of "chief strategist and senior counselor" has drawn sharp criticism from advocacy groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League that monitor and condemn hate groups and extremism.

Bannon, who also had a leadership position in Trump's campaign, helped build the Breitbart News Network, a conservative news outlet that has gained a reputation as a haven for propaganda from the "alt-right," a white supremacy movement with social media savvy.


American Muslims, who are about 1 percent of the U.S. population, are among the minority groups bracing for life under Trump, said Hassan Shibly, a civil rights lawyer and a director of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"It's really surreal. It really feels like we're in 'The Twilight Zone' or in a 'Simpsons' cartoon Halloween special," Shibly said. "It's a little bit shocking to see the level of tolerance there is in many voters for racism, sexism and xenophobia."

Hate crimes against Muslims are at their highest level since 2001, the year of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to annual data released by the FBI.

In 2015, under President Barack Obama, there was a 67 percent rise in hate crimes targeting Muslims, the FBI found.

Shibly is concerned that violence against Muslims could worsen under Trump.

During his campaign, Trump promised his supporters he would ban Muslim immigration. He first made that remark about a month after a series of terrorist attacks by the Islamic State group in Paris killed 130 people and in the wake of a shooting that killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California. A married couple with ties to Pakistan carried out the California attack.

Trump publicly has gone back and forth on whether he would consider creating a nationwide registry of all Muslims who already live in the country. That could affect as many as 3.3 million people, according to an estimate of the 2015 Muslim population from the Pew Research Center.

In an interview with Reuters, Trump adviser and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said policy advisers have suggested Trump reinstate a George W. Bush-era immigration program. Kobach was referring to the National Security Entry-Exit Registry System that kept information on immigrants and visitors who entered the U.S. on visas from countries where extremist groups were active, according to Reuters. It was discontinued in 2011 amid complaints it unfairly targeted Muslims.

Kobach had helped write another controversial immigration law, SB 1070, which required police to determine the immigration status of people arrested or detained when there was “reasonable suspicion” they were not in the U.S. legally. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled key parts of that law were unconstitutional.

Trump has walked back on the Muslim ban and has instead called for "extreme vetting" of immigrants who might enter the United States from conflict zones. It is unclear how that process would differ from what the U.S. State Department has in place.

Jonathan Martin, chairman of the Lee County Republican Party, said Trump's proposed ban on Muslim immigration was always meant to be temporary.

Trump's point is "we need to get control and understand who is coming into the country," Martin said. "Since all the terrorists who are threatening us are coming through certain areas, he was going to put extra scrutiny" on them.

The president-elect's ability to stay focused on his message and not be "swayed by political correctness" will allow the U.S. to grapple with challenges that others deemed taboo, Martin said.

"It might not be the most comfortable way to deal with issues, but at least we are going to deal with them head on," Martin said. "Sometimes it comes as a shock to people because we are not used to hearing it from our leaders."

Trump's lack of a legislative track record makes it difficult to draw conclusions about policies he might try to enact as a head of state, but he already "has done damage by normalizing hate," Shibly said.

"What troubles me the most is the message that sends my children," Shibly said. "They come home talking about how Trump wants to ban them and build a great big wall."


Public demonstrations challenging Trump's leadership have occurred in cities across the country. Protesters have marched in Fort MyersMiamiOaklandNew YorkLos Angeles and other cities.

Civil rights groups have condemned Trump campaign statements that disparaged Muslims as well as the First Amendmentwomenpeople who have disabilitiesNative AmericansLatinosAfrican-Americansimmigrants and the LGBT community.

The ACLU has threatened Trump's administration with lawsuits. The group's website has a picture of Trump's face with the words "See you in court" and a prominent "donate monthly" button.

"We take him at his word," said Nancy Abudu, legal director for the ACLU in Florida. "That gives us enough to know we are going to have a lot of work ahead."

Nationwide, there also have been reports of aggressive confrontations between Trump supporters and people from minority groups.

In an interview with CBS, Trump said he wanted people to stop harassing Latinos, Muslims and other minority groups in his name.

"If it — if it helps, I will say this, and I will say this right to the cameras: 'Stop it,' " Trump said.

He criticized opposition protests as well.

Speaking Monday at the White House during a news conference, his first since Trump was elected, President Barack Obama struck a conciliatory tone. He said Trump is pragmatic, not an ideologue.

The reality of life in the Oval Office will influence Trump after he takes power, Obama said.

"There are certain things that make for a good sound bite but don't always translate to good policy," Obama said.

Shibly said his hope is Trump will find a way to be president of all Americans. The Muslim community in the United States will struggle alongside others to protect civil rights, he said.

"Do not give into hate. Rather, work to understand each other," Shibly said. "That's it."

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