Local leaders called for the community to come together one day after two burnt crosses were found in Dubuque.
“We want to send a message that this is a community for all, where all should feel safe,” said Anthony Allen, chairman of Dubuque Human Rights Commission and president of the Dubuque branch of the NAACP.
During a press conference at Carnegie-Stout Public Library, officials released few new details about the incident, in which the crosses were found in the area of 22nd and Washington streets Wednesday morning.
A call was placed to 911 dispatchers at about 4:40 a.m. about something burning in that area, but officers were unable to locate it. The “crudely constructed” crosses were found nearby at about 9 a.m.
Police Chief Mark Dalsing said the department will exhaust all leads in finding the person or people responsible for the act, which is being considered a hate crime. Officials reached out to the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“From the moment the potential nature of this event came to the attention of the Dubuque Police Department, we have been giving it our full attention,” Dalsing said.
‘MORE WORK TO BE DONE’
From 1988 to 1993, at least 14 cross burnings occurred in Dubuque, garnering national attention. Dalsing said he believed Wednesday’s incident to be the first since those took place.
Several speakers referenced those earlier incidents.
“It was well over two decades ago when our community suffered a similar hate incident,” Mayor Roy Buol said. “In the years since, our city, our law enforcement and many organizations in our community have been actively engaged in creating a community where all people feel welcome, safe and respected.
“Clearly, there is more work to be done.”
Allen said he was living in Dubuque at the time of the previous cross burnings. At the time, the acts were dismissed as “random acts” by youth being youth, he said.
“We need to take action and take action quick,” he said. “I’m 50 years old, and I’m continuing to deal with these type of issues.”
Allen called the cross burning a “terrorist act.”
“When you burn a cross, you send a significant message of hate,” he said.
Miquel Jackson, vice president of the Dubuque NAACP, said racism and hatred still are alive in the city.
“That’s not to say Dubuque is racist because that would encompass all Dubuque residents and that is not the case,” he added.
Jackson said there must be focus on ensuring people of all racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds, as well as those of any gender identity or sexual orientation, feel welcome and safe in the city. He asked people to imagine themselves as targets of discrimination.
Katrina Farren-Eller, network coordinator for Inclusive Dubuque, said the cross burning was an “isolated act” that does not define the community. She said that as Dubuque’s predominantly white population has evolved to be more diverse, there has been fear and distress over the change.
Inclusive Dubuque is a network of more than 60 local organizations dedicated to advancing equity and inclusion in Dubuque. The network launched in October 2013.
She asked members of the white community to consider the other perspectives.
“What would it be ... to feel like people are always judging you, evaluating you, judging you?” Farren-Eller asked.
After the press conference, Farren-Eller said Dubuque is making efforts toward improving cultural diversity but lacks an action plan.
“We want to move from talk to action quickly … and use data to track our progress” through measurable outcomes, Farren-Eller said. “The tension lies in knowing changes need to happen to build better relationships in the community, but making sure we are building a strong base and doing things the right way. And that takes time.”
The City of Dubuque last month received a first-place award from the National League of Cities for its support of Inclusive Dubuque and its efforts to improve cultural diversity.
Farren-Eller said Inclusive Dubuque plans to issue a report next month detailing resources and efforts implemented in the past two years to promote equity and inclusion in the community.
FORUM FOR ‘MUTUAL LEARNING’
Dalsing said because of national instances of hate crimes and racial tension, he organized a group of community leaders several months ago for “mutual learning” and discussing issues impacting community members of diverse backgrounds.
“We’ve have been meeting for several months around these topics with the hope that we would never have to go beyond the planning stage,” Dalsing said. “However, yesterday’s incident necessitated that we enact our planning, whether we were ready or not.”
Alan Garfield, a member of the group the chief organized, said all community members must talk about the impact of this hate crime and condemn it.
“Evil always exists when good people do nothing,” he said. “You need to take a stand.”