ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA —
The Del Ray neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia, touts itself as a place "Where Main Street Still Exists."
Just across the Potomac River from the nation's capital, Del Ray is a place where kids ride bikes, people dine at small restaurants and families stroll about eating ice cream.
But the peaceful, welcoming community was shaken and shocked one morning when hate signs targeting blacks, Muslims and other groups were discovered on trees and windshields.
"That type of hatred and those negative opinions aren't things I associate with Del Ray," said Nelle Champlin-Scannelle, who lives with her fiance in the neighborhood. "Prejudice is not part of our community."
The name of an extremist right-wing group, Blood and Soil, was on the posters, some of which expressed white-supremacist sentiments. After tearing down the signs, some residents responded by placing anti-hate placards in front of their homes and businesses.
Signs such as "Diversity is Celebrated" and "No Matter Where You are From, We are Glad You're our Neighbor" are now on display on lawns in front of homes in Del Ray.
Others are posted on the doors and windows of local businesses.
"Hate of any kind is not wanted here," said candy store owner Petros Ghebre-Egziabher, who is from Ethiopia. "By putting up the sign ['Hate is not welcome here'], I was showing that I am part of this community now, and I'm going to stand with this community against any kind of racism."
Longtime resident Stephany Wright, who owns a picture-framing shop, has a sign that reflects her feelings: "Hate is not a Del Ray Trait."
"Everybody knows everybody," she explained. "We're all friends, colleagues."
The hate posters felt like "a personal attack on us," Wright said.
Protected but not accepted
Rod Kuckro, head of Del Ray's Citizens Association, said messages of hate and intolerance are unacceptable in the friendly neighborhood. "Free speech is protected by the U.S. Constitution, but it's not something that is looked upon favorably when it's of that nature," he said.
A poster declaring "Everyone is Welcome Here," with a picture of a smiling woman wearing a Muslim headscarf, is on the window of The Neighborhood Pharmacy. Co-owner Stacey Swartz talked about her shop's diverse staff: "We have Hispanic employees. We have Muslim employees. We have Persian employees.
"We just have everybody. So, it's very important to us that our customers also feel just as welcome, too."
A supersized "Reject Hate" sign sits next to a dog supplies store. Owner Paul Haire said he put up that sign after several people from a baseball team led by Republican members of Congress were shot on a sports field in Del Ray.
The gunman, who was shot and killed by police, was not from Del Ray. He tracked down the congressional baseball team because he allegedly hated members of the Republican Party, which holds a majority in both houses of Congress.
That incident, Haire said, persuaded him to express his feeling that hate speech has gotten out of hand since last November's presidential election.
"It doesn't matter who started up the virulent hatred that we've heard coming out of people's mouths," Haire said. "It just needs to stop."
Del Ray, he says, lives the motto of "Reject Hate" every day.