Zaheer Babar Khan immigrated to the United States in 2006 from Pakistan and has since become an American citizen.
When he saw images on Twitter of a white banner that said, “You will not replace us. End immigration now! Identity Evropa,” hanging on the Minnesota River Bluffs LRT Regional Trail pedestrian bridge over U.S. Highway 212 near Eden Prairie’s Miller Park, he decided to take action.
“I’ve known that Eden Prairie is far better than what I’ve seen,” he said.
Khan was one of nearly 10 people who gathered at the bridge on the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 25, to share a message of support for immigration and inclusiveness. Those present held up signs for motorists to see. Some drivers honked. Khan’s sign said, “New/old Americans are immigrants.”
“One thing that needs to be learned from immigrants, we’ve seen how societies and countries go down when they’re not unified, when they’re divided,” he said. “I don’t want to see this in this country.”
Eden Prairie Police Chief Jim DeMann says in a Oct. 27 statement posted on the department’s Facebook page that the Police Department received a report from a driver about “an offensive sign” on the pedestrian bridge at 7:40 a.m. Friday, Oct. 20. However, the sign was gone by the time police arrived. It is illegal to hang signs or banners on overpasses in Minnesota.
“The message written on the sign targeted individuals within our community, residents of our city and country. As chief of police, I want the community to know that we are here to protect and serve all individuals — regardless of race, religion, creed or political beliefs — and acts of intimidation and harassment will not be tolerated in Eden Prairie,” he said.
The images of the banner were tweeted by white supremacist group Identity Evropa on Monday, Oct. 23. Some Twitter users alerted the Eden Prairie Police Department through its Twitter account of the images. A Police Department spokesperson said an officer was sent to check out the area, but the banner was not there at the time the officer arrived.
The Oct. 25 response was organized by Make Change MN, a group of local residents that formed in 2016. Its first formal event was a vigil in July 2016 in response to the shootings that killed Philando Castile in Falcon Heights and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“We’ve been trying to have a presence in Eden Prairie where we’re trying to have the community stand against hate and racism and xenophobia,” said an Eden Prairie resident who is one of the group’s members and asked for her name to be withdrawn from this story after receiving unwanted online attention.
“There’s a small group of us who sort of do the organizing. There’s 10 to 12, and we reach out to the larger community like for the Philando Castile vigil.”
She saw images of the banner on the internet and contacted other Make Change MN group members. They encouraged community members to come to the bridge to display signs throughout the day and organized a formal gathering at 5:30 p.m. Several people stopped by in the morning, she added.
Other signs displayed at the bridge said “End white supremacy,” or “No place for hate.” Khan said the sooner residents talk about this, the better.
“Give a strong message that we are one and the same,” he said.