Kayla Santosuosso said it all started with a Facebook message from a friend asking her if she could find someone to accompany a Muslim woman who had been harassed repeatedly on her way to school.
So Santosuosso, deputy director of the Arab American Association of New York, wrote a post on Facebook to find a volunteer.
Then, more people reached out to her to volunteer. On Thursday night, Santosuosso decided to create a sign-up form on Google docs to keep a working list and to better match volunteers with people who need to be accompanied based on their neighborhoods and where they commute. Santosuosso said she thought about two dozen or so from her network of friends in New York City would sign up.
As of Monday morning, four days later, 6,255 people, many of whom were New Yorkers while others were from out of state, have volunteered to accompany minorities, immigrants and LGBT individuals who felt they were being threatened or harassed on their daily commute.
Amid the protests and vitriol that have spread across the country in the past few days, Santosuosso is now faced with an unexpected task: trying to coordinate a surprisingly enormous number of volunteers willing to help others who may be in harm’s way.
Reports of hateful intimidation and racially charged attacks erupted in the aftermath of the presidential election. Many were directed at African Americans, Muslims and immigrants, and many appear to be in support of Donald Trump, who promised during the campaign to keep Muslims from entering the United States. He later backed off from a complete ban, saying his proposal would keep out people from countries that have been “compromised by terrorism.”
Santosuosso said the number of people offering to help has far outweighed those who need it. But she said this kind of volunteer work will be needed for the long term, and the outpouring of support sends a strong message.
The Google sign-up form that Santosuosso created, titled “Yes, I’ll accompany my neighbor,” asks people for their names and email addresses. It also asks volunteers to list the neighborhoods where they commute to match them with those in need of accompaniment.
“Why did this idea catch on so much?” she said. “The important thing here is that clearly, people are really ready to show up for their neighbors. There are people who want to help or are trying to find a way to help, but are unclear how to do it.”
Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, told CNN that the hate watch group has so far tallied 300 harassment and intimidation incidents directed at minorities since Trump was elected. The center pulled from news reports, social media posts and incidents reported directly to the center’s website. The group also cautioned that not all incidents have direct references to the president-elect and not every report could be independently verified.
“He needs to take a little more responsibility for what’s happening,” Cohen said on News Day.
Trump’s candidacy and rhetoric have energized white supremacy groups. In August, for instance, Rocky Suhayda, a top American Nazi Party leader, said a Trump victory is “going to be a real opportunity for people like white nationalists.” The president-elect’s newly appointed chief strategist, Breibart News’s Stephen Bannon, once called the website “the platform of the alt-right,” a movement that white nationalists have embraced.
In his victory speech, Trump kept a unifying tone and promised to be “president of all Americans” — a departure from his campaign rhetoric.
Still, thousands have taken to the streets to protest his victory, while dozens of racially charged attacks, many from Trump supporters, have been reported.
A Muslim teacher in Georgia, for instance, reported to school officials that she received an anonymous note, telling her to “hang” herself with her headscarf. A University of Michigan student told police that someone threatened to set her on fire if she didn’t remove her hijab.
Several black freshman at the University of Pennsylvania received racist messages from a student from another school. The messages included images of people hanging from trees, racial slurs and a “daily lynching” calendar.
Middle school students in Michigan were seen on video chanting “build that wall.” Teenagers in a Pennsylvania school paraded through the hallways holding a Trump sign as one student shouted “white power.”
Cases of anti-Semitic vandalism have also surfaced.
Law enforcement officials in New York, for instance, are investigating at least two incidents. One involved a swastika sign and the word “Trump” scrawled on a wall inside a university dorm room at the State University of New York in Geneseo. The words “Make America White Again” and a swastika sign were spray-painted on a softball dugout at Island Park in Wellsville.
During an interview with CBS’s Lesley Stahl on “60 Minutes,” Trump said he was “saddened” by the intimidation reports.
“And I say, ‘Stop it,'” he said. “If it — if it helps, I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: ‘Stop it.'”
Meanwhile, the Arab American Association of New York, where Santosuosso works, is offering mental health counseling.
What she needs to do now, Santosuosso said, is to figure out a way to better handle the number of volunteers, some of whom are not from New York. Santosuosso said there needs to be a more secure platform for people to sign up and an easier way to connect them with those in need of help. She said she’s been contacted by some online developers.
“We’re sort of hustling right now to try to figure out what’s the best way to move forward,” Santosuosso said. “The most important thing is that people are being galvanized into taking action in the aftermath of the election. The most important thing is that we figure out a way to harness that energy.”