Last Monday as I walked to work, I noticed houses on Lincoln Place were vandalized with racist remarks. Today on Martin Luther King’s birthday the graffiti still remains.
When I first encountered the it last week it was unusual. There is a lot of graffiti in this neighborhood, but the content, “SAM HATES NIGGERS” followed by a swastika sign, seemed very intentional and new. I remember the race riots that occurred between the Orthodox Jewish community and the Black community in the summer of 1991. It would be hard for me to imagine that any long-time resident who survived that three-day ordeal back then would partake in such a hate crime today.
So in my mind, this graffiti marks a turning point in Crown Heights and I immediately had a visceral response when I saw it because it reminded me of the racism I experienced when I lived on the south side of Williamsburg five years ago. During that period, working-class Latinos were systematically being pushed out of their community, and I often encountered the same form of racial antagonism.
After seeing the graffiti last Monday near my house, I made a conscious effort to take a different route on my way to the subway in order to avoid seeing it. Eventually I forgot about the graffiti until I saw it again today.
Residents in Crown Heights have expressed their anger about having their homes defaced with swastikas and blatant forms of anti-black bigotry last week. But the graffiti still remains and that puzzles me. As I was taking pictures of it this morning a few older men stared but did not say anything. Perhaps the residents on this block may be renters, and not owners, and do not feel compelled to take it upon themselves to remove the graffiti since it is not their property. But it also true that many of us have internalize various forms of racial degradation in our environment everyday so this incident may seem trivial and easy to ignore.
To keep silent about hate crimes in our community does not stop it from occurring, it only embolden those who carry such views to strike again without out fear of retribution. We can always walk around the issue as I did last week because I was upset and did not want to see the signs of hate, or experience the pain associated with it before walking to work. But if we don’t face up to it who will? It will only spread. These things don’t go away.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said "we will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people." I am surprised that I have not heard more on this issue from local elected officials, or other community leaders that claim to care about Crown Heights. I hope they read this and take appropriate steps to have the graffiti removed because it sends the wrong message, especially to our children that must walk pass it everyday.