Op-Ed: A Whitewashed Garage Door
By Jason Papallo, NCCJ E-Communications and Marketing Specialist
& Michael Vidal, Youth Programs Educator
In the beginning of 2017, a Stamford couple suffered a public hate crime in the form of racist graffiti, and they took an untypical approach in confronting it.
The N-word, written on the garage door of Heather Lindsay and Lexene Charles, was a direct jab at Charles, and by extension a belittlement of the interracial couple. They responded by leaving up the racist slur in order to prompt local authorities to catch the perpetrator, as well as to open up a larger dialogue around systematic racism.
For the city of Stamford, that was a tough sell. Tough to the tune of a $100 fine for a public blight violation per day. Fines paid to Stamford started adding up on Feb. 14, a month after the incident occurred.
Before resolution could be found, however, the tagging was replaced with a coverup, not prompted by the city of Stamford, but another vandal.
According to the Samford Advocate, the “whitewashing” incident followed meetings between Lindsay and city officials in order to lift the imposed $100-a-day blight fine levied on her for leaving the slur visible on her home.
Despite the city’s attempts, the second act of vandalism further highlights the lack of police and community interest in both protecting this family, and investigating the initial vandalism.
In a statement released by the city after the initial tagging, Director of Public Safety, Health and Welfare Ted Jankowski said that in Stamford “We pride ourselves on being a welcoming city to all who come here, no matter their race, religion or national origin.”
“In light of Stamford being an incredibly diverse city, residents would be hard-pressed to recall another racially-motivated incident like this in the last 20-30 years in Stamford.”
A good track record over the past few decades means little to the scale of history. Even ‘liberal’ New England possesses the disposition of prejudice, all while further enabling it through denial.
This incident is an example of a city that says it’s welcoming to all, but where the actions of the community simply don’t back up the sentiment. Opposed to committing resources to finding the perpetrator, the victims were further punished by their community through apathy and inaction.
One would believe that most members of the Stamford community do not condone such actions, however, it is disheartening that Lindsay and Charles’ neighbors did not express support for the family, nor anger in the original incident.
The message being that they care about the value of their property, rather than the culture of their community.
This home has been vandalized multiple times before this incident, and the only time community residents complained about the graffiti was after it remained, not to express solidarity with their neighbors.
Why? Because we are taught in our culture that it is more problematic to have an open dialogue about racism than it is to just ignore it. That internal conflict seems to trump reality when it comes to racism, making the external presence of that injustice that much more apparent.
This is a major problem with living as a person of color in this country: no matter what, when confronted with the oppressive nature of racism, resisting will often times produce a backlash of its own, pushing an even stronger resistance over gaining support.
A vandalized home may feel less like home afterwards, and in this case, it only becomes more uncomfortable when this couple’s decision on how to move forward reacting to the hate crime is disregarded by their city and neighbors.
Initially, Stamford offered to remove the “blight” free-of-charge. While we may understand the intention of this action to be in support of the victims, despite the law, we know, that there is a difference between legality and justice.
As we’ve seen countless times, there is a common theme within the spinning wheels of bigotry that allows the winds of extremism to push them forward with only fiercer force.
With that, a stand was cut down at the ankles, and the much-needed attention to racism in our little slice of New England is mostly ignored, and most likely forgotten, as we conveniently seem to do in the more “enlightened” parts of this country. Without warning, the statement was silence. Suddenly, national news wasn’t. Soon, the effort will be forgotten, because someone in Stamford’s community decided it needed to be whitewashed.
What does this say about future hate crimes when this is how the community responds? Will they too be whitewashed over and forgotten?
About the National Conference for Community and Justice
Formed 1927, NCCJ is a nonprofit human relations organization that promotes inclusion and acceptance by providing education and advocacy while building communities that are respectful and just for all. Celebrating the diversity of races, religions, cultures, genders, abilities, and sexual orientations.
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