Saturday, February 09, 2008
That type of prank is unjustifiable, and it’s wrong and it’s just distasteful. It is sad. It is primarily a black neighborhood.
The racist scribbling scratched onto the face of the Pay Less grocery store on West Nichol Street is easy to miss. The disturbing symbols and letters symbolizing oppression and hatred are strangely hidden within a symbol for freedom and equality — the American flag.
The hate-laced graffiti was discovered on Thursday after a local resident alerted Madison County NAACP President James Burgess.
The grocery store was closed on July 21, 2007, and a painting in the front window celebrates Independence Day, the last holiday observed before the location was shut down.
The patriotic mural depicts two American flags centered around the word “celebrate.” Scratched into a curved, white stripe on the American flag are the words, “white power.” Just beneath the lettering is a Nazi swastika next to a “KKK” symbol. Below that, the letters “AVC” are written. It is unclear whether this is the signature of the vandal or an acronym for white supremacy.
The building’s owners said they weren’t sure where the symbols came from, but vowed to take them off the window immediately.
When Burgess arrived at the scene of the vandalism on Thursday morning, he was joined by two black residents of the west side Anderson community. The three men peered into the empty store and glared at the chilling symbols.
One of Burgess’ associates was moved by the display but fearful of allowing his name to be printed in the newspaper, suggesting that it would be unsafe to do so.
“This is part of my history,” the man said, keeping his eyes fixed on the ruined mural. “I grew up in Mississippi.”
The 61-year-old man said he had lived through segregation in the south and that the stigma of racism had stayed with him.
“It’s hard to trust the Caucasian race. I’m not saying everybody is bad ... but we were belittled. We were brought up to think we were inferior.”
The display of racism does not surprise him. “This is no surprise. I like to think I know people. There was a time in my life when I learned to accept this. I thought I was inferior until I went to a junior college in California.”
He expressed on Thursday that the vandalism was not only offensive due to its content, but also because of its location. “This is a black neighborhood. I pay taxes here.”
For Burgess, the vandalism represented more than a harmless prank. “Yes, it offends me. It’s a crime to me.”
As leader of the local NAACP, Burgess said he was focused on changing laws concerning race-motivated vandalism. “We would like to make legislation where this does become criminal.”
As for the vandals, Burgess has an idea of the reasoning behind the graffiti. “They would call this First Amendment — freedom of speech
Ollie Dixon, who serves the west side on the Anderson City Council, says the focus should be placed on finding the vandals
“That type of prank is unjustifiable, and it’s wrong and it’s just distasteful. It is sad, but I would like to find out who is responsible. It is primarily a black neighborhood and again, I think the owners ought to be confronted and find out who has access and whoever did that should be punished and brought to justice.”
Neyer Management is in charge of maintaining the property for its owner, Nicholl Avenue LLC. Jerold Surdahl of Neyer explained on Thursday that the company had not noticed the vandalism, even though area youths who discovered the markings said they’d been on the window for months. The management firm plans to immediately remove the graffiti. “I’ll do what I can to get it gone, probably today,” Surdahl said on Thursday.
Vandalism at the location is nothing new. The building is covered in explicit markings and large white spots where maintenance workers attempted to cover the graffiti. According to Surdahl, the swastika and racist lettering represent the first race-motivated vandalism to the property.
So far, the owners and managers of the building have no idea who could’ve vandalized the window. The building is still being leased by Kroger. According to Surdahl, this equates to a lot of keys and a lot of people with access to the building.
“I have been in touch with the management at Kroger, and neither of us know who would have had access there. There could have been a number of keys that escaped captivity. I will have it removed as soon as possible