Responding to a reported hate crime against a Muslim man in her community, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, resident Lori Carlson decided to extend a message of love.
Carlson and her friends organized a love-in that drew about 100 people Tuesday evening after reports that a home owned by Tigani Mohamoud, who moved to the U.S. from Sudan in 2007, had been vandalized. Mohamoud told police on June 24 that his Cedar Rapids home had been painted with anti-Muslim graffiti, including a message reading, "You will be killed here."
Mohamoud said the house has been repeatedly broken into in the two years since he bought it, and the fence and water heater have been stolen.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, reported that a representative of its Iowa chapter was called a "raghead" and "f**king Muslim" by a local resident when she went to investigate the vandalism.
"It broke our hearts," Carlson, a photographer who has lived in Cedar Rapids for roughly two decades, told The Huffington Post. "So we decided to gather and do a little love-in."
Carlson described a love-in as "a form of peaceful social activism" and said the event was themed "love thy neighbor" and included music, conversation and meditation. Speaking from Time Check Park, where the love-in took place, Carlson said she and her co-organizers had set up an altar with peace signs, a coexist prayer flag and blankets nestled in a circle of trees.
The attack "just seemed really close to home," Carlson said. "We just wanted to show support in our community."
“We have the potential for a hate crime, obviously,” Cedar Rapids police investigator Rick Dvorsky told The Gazette. “We’re going to take a serious look.”
CAIR-Iowa executive director Miriam Amer told local news she wasn't surprised by the outpouring of support from Carlson and other Iowans, despite anti-Muslim hate crimes that have been happening across the country,
"The people of Iowa are generally very welcoming," Amer said.
Amer, who attended the love-in, said the event sent an important message of tolerance. "This show of solidarity and humanity is indeed necessary," she told HuffPost. "The love shown today was so loud and so strong, the voices of hate are drowned out. Hate is something that is learned, and it can be unlearned."
A supporter in the nearby city of Marion started a GoFundMe page to help Mohamoud rebuild the house. The fund had received more than $3,000 as of Tuesday evening.
For Carlson, who said she doesn't follow any organized religion, the love-in represents more than just acceptance of Muslims.
"This wasn't really about one particular person or one particular religious group," she told HuffPost. "My friends and I are all about everyone coexisting -- whether it's your sexuality, religion, or race -- we're all human beings and we all deserve to live without fear."