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A silver lining to theft cases

The alleged crimes are the kind of petty terrorism that many refugees who now call Concord home hoped to leave behind. On Monday, two Concord teens were arrested for assaulting and attempting to rob a group of Nepalese immigrants of Bhutanese heritage. According to police reports, one of the teens told the immigrants, “Give us $20 or we will kill you guys.” That kind of threat, the kind that in some places sees kids killed for their sneakers, is foreign to Concord. Fortunately, though the immigrants refused payment, their injuries were minor.

That incident follows the bullying of refugees and theft of vegetables from their plots in the Sycamore Field community garden on Fort Eddy Road. An arrest was made in that case as well. Cracking the case was easy. Several of the gardeners took photographs, not just of the truck driven into the field by the accused, but of the interaction between him and members of what is primarily a garden for low-income people. Not long after that incident came the arrest of a man suspected of scrawling racist graffiti on the South End homes of refugees from Africa. All the suspects in the three cases are white men. People forced to become refugees are usually members of a powerless minority oppressed by the majority. In both cases of theft or attempted theft, the suspects likely assumed that the Nepalese would be too fearful to report the alleged crime. They were wrong.

While the alleged thefts are crimes made more heinous because of the choice of victims, they have a silver lining: They’ve demonstrated to people who in their homelands had little reason to trust the police or receive justice that the rule of law in America applies to everyone.

Refugees, almost by definition, are resilient. Some of Concord’s new residents saw war, bloodshed and the massacre of family members. Members of a Nepalese community that now numbers about 850 in Concord spent as long as 17 years in refugee camps after their eviction from Bhutan, whose king summarily declared that Bhutan was only for native Bhutanese. No matter what their heritage, all the refugees have seen suffering on a scale that allows them to put their harassment and intimidation at the hands of cheap thugs in perspective. And what those who see Concord’s new immigrants as easy targets for victimization should know is that here, if harmed, the refugees will call the police. An outreach to the refugee community by Police Chief John Duval and his force is teaching them to trust, not fear, law enforcement.

Concord has been a welcoming community, quick to rush to support the victims. That’s to the city’s great credit. The support is working, not in all cases, or with all families, but slowly and surely. The camps where the Nepalese were interred had a unified school curriculum that included English lessons, so young refugees are fluent in both languages. Some adults are fluent as well, having been teachers, doctors or members of some other profession before they were evicted from Bhutan. As a group, they are dogged in their pursuit of jobs, hard-working and frugal to a degree unimaginable in a shop-till-you-drop society. It is common for the man of the household to have two jobs and the woman to hold down at least one, and they save as much as they can. They are not going to give up their pursuit of the American dream easily.

After only a half-dozen years here, several Nepalese families have managed to purchase homes of their own. Another 10 are in the process of doing so. The home purchases, according to a volunteer committed to helping the immigrants, have been made largely with cash, money made by working, not taking it from people perceived as weak.

Legacy Comments4

New Hampshire's dirty little secret is we have more bigots than we should. Where do these kids come from. Their parents, that's where. I know lots of folks of a certain age who still use the N word with impunity and the odd thing is, most of them have never known a person of color. There are places I could take you in our fair state and you would be shocked. NH has a problem and it's time we faced up to it

I've seen the ugly face of racism in NH at the school I teach at and in the community. It IS a dirty little secret and we need to do something about it.

A larger lesson, applicable to ALL in our society who would exploit those deemed to be less entitled than they, is that the exploiters' perception and belief that their victims are too powerless and/or fearful to resist can be dead wrong.

The silver lining is the refugees themselves. Dealing with mean-spirited white bigotry is a cinch after growing up in the squalor of a refugee camp where you lived on a ration of rice and had to deal with feral dogs and worse. In a battle of wills between a refugee and a hateful American youth with a sense of entitlement they have no business having . . . my money's on the refugee every time.

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