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City Posts Signs Depicting How To Help Defuse Islamophobic Situations

City workers are putting up PSA posters around Boston Monday in a new initiative to show people how to safely step in and help stop incidents of Islamophobic harassment.

The cartoons depict a public transit scene where a disheartened-looking woman wearing a hijab sits while an irate person towers above her in a threatening manner. Another young woman looks on before deciding to intervene.

The step-by-step instructions, city officials said, encourage bystanders to quickly strike up conversations with Muslims being assailed by strangers, in hopes the actions will help disrupt the abuse, make victims feel safer and less alienated, and help disempower perpetrators.

The posters also stress that both bystanders and victims should ignore the attacker, which city officials said in a statement is an approach called "non-complementary behavior." The logic is that harassers will stop or go away as others' reactions deviate from their expectations and as they lose a captive audience.

The poster offers people instructions on how to intervene when witnessing incidents of Islamophobic harassment. (Courtesy city of Boston)
The poster offers people instructions on how to intervene when witnessing incidents of Islamophobic harassment. (Courtesy city of Boston)

The posters, which were originally designed in 2015 by a Paris-based artist known as Maeril, are being placed on city-owned furniture in about 50 locations, officials said. Other cities, like San Francisco and New York, have launched similar campaigns.

The initiative follows recent charges against a man for allegedly yelling anti-Muslim slurs at a 61-year-old woman who was wearing a headscarf and riding the Orange Line.

"It's an awkward place to be in, when you see someone being harassed," said Faisa Sharif, Boston's citywide Somali neighborhood service liaison. "[The poster] does feature a Muslim woman, a woman in hijab. But I think it applies across all people from different backgrounds who are just in a tense situation in public or being harassed in public."

Yusufi Vali, executive director of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, said he feels the city's initiative is timely.

"The climate across the nation is certainly different under the current White House administration," Vali said. "The Boston-Muslim community is feeling what the rest of the nation is feeling: a lot of uncertainty and a sense of insecurity."

He said he felt heartened by the city's efforts to make Muslims feel welcome.

"We are touched by the mayor's team taking this on," Vali said. "It speaks to how Boston truly is a home for its Muslims."

The number of reported hate crimes targeting Muslims tripled from 5 in 2015 to 19 in 2016, according to a Boston Globe analysis of Boston police data.

With reporting by WBUR's Newscast Unit

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Lisa Creamer Twitter Digital Producer
Lisa Creamer is a digital producer at WBUR.

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