SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ – Board of Education member and community activist Azra Baig joined U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-12, during a forum Saturday relating to the recent election and how it impacts local communities.
The 12 Town Hall forum was hosted at the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset and featured veteran pollster Cornell Belcher and CNN analyst Angela Rye along with local leaders including Baig, Trenton Mayor Eric Johnson and Logan Township Mayor Frank Minor.
In the first panel, Belcher and Rye discussed the results of the race and explored possibilities that led to the surprising win for billionaire Republican Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Later, local leaders discussed the implications of the victory for Democrats and minorities at the local level.
During this part of the panel, Baig related her story of racist vandalism to several of her campaign signs as she ran for a second term on the board, which she won.
In a press release Nov. 9, the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ) asked state and federal law enforcement to investigate graffiti left on several of her election lawn signs during the recent campaign.
Several lawn signs for Baig near South Brunswick High School on Ridge Road were vandalized between Sept. 26 and Oct. 21 while she ran for office.
Graffiti with slogans such as “ISIS sympathizer,” “ISIS” and “rag head,” were discovered on the signs during that time.
Baig said she immediately reported the incident to local police who said they are continuing to investigate the vandalism.
“This kind of hate speech serves to reinforce negative stereotypes and cast a shadow of suspicion and doubt over all Muslims”, CAIR-NJ Executive Director James Sues said in the November release. “We urge state and federal law enforcement authorities to investigate this incident as a possible hate crime.”
The incidents come during one of the most divisive and charged presidential election cycles in modern memory.
Republican Donald Trump, who won the office on Tuesday against Democrat Hillary Clinton, ran a controversial campaign that, among other things, called for a temporary ban on Muslims coming into the country until they can be thoroughly vetted due to terror attack concerns.
Clinton called the “Muslim ban” “Islamophobia” and racist.
“Unfortunately, these past months have seen a level of divisiveness and rancor that should be intolerable for anyone in a civilized society”, Coleman said in that release. “There is no circumstance where we can be willing to accept the racism, sexism, xenophobia and religious intolerance that has permeated throughout this past election cycle. Now, more than ever, we need to stand strong as one community and put aside our differences so that we may all do the hard work required to ensure an even brighter tomorrow for our country’s future generation.”
Mayor Frank Gambatese said then that the incidents are not representative of the diverse township.
“I am extremely disappointed in what happened to Ms. Azra Baig’s campaign signs”, Gambatese said. “We are very proud of Ms. Baig and her service to the community. This is not who we are in South Brunswick.”
Baig also said that the incidents surprised her and are not the experience she has had living in the community and serving on the board.
“These criminal actions do not represent any part of the wonderful community of South Brunswick, NJ and the warmth and kindness of everyone I have had the pleasure of meeting with” Baig said. “I am grateful to the community for their support of my re-election and I am grateful for the efforts of the South Brunswick Police Department for their efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Police are still investigating the incidents.
A second panel during the day focused on how people could heal from the contentious race and move forward.
Videos of both full panel discussions are available on Coleman’s Facebook page.
(Editor’s Note: Azra Baig also freelances for TAPinto South Brunswick and Cranbury. We were also made aware of the vandalism early on by Baig, but decided not to publish any report until after the election on Tuesday.)
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