Tuesday, June 10, 2008
burning of racist symbols in yard of African-American family in Metairie. By Michelle Hunter.
More than four weeks after someone burned the letters KKK and the shapes of three crosses in the front yard of an African-American family's Metairie home, the grass still refuses to grow. And the family has not rushed to remove the symbols.
"We left it out there because we want people in the neighborhood to know that there are people in their own backyards that believe in this garbage," said the family's patriarch, who asked not to be named when a reporter stopped by Monday. He said he doesn't want any publicity for himself, just public awareness that "racism is still alive and it is well."
The Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office and the FBI are investigating the damage as a possible hate crime. The symbols appear to have been made by a chemical, not by fire. They were reported May 7. No suspects have been arrested.
The property, in a predominantly white section of northeast Metairie, is home to a 35-year-old chef and a 34-year-old cosmetologist and their three children. They had lived in the house only five days when the symbols were discovered.
"I just didn't know what to think," the man said, holding his 19-month-old son in one arm and his 5-month-old daughter in the other. "I didn't know what to say. I was just in awe."
The father said he was afraid at first, then outraged. Now he's confused and frustrated.
"I want to ask, 'Why?' We haven't been in the neighborhood long enough to cause a ruckus. We didn't do anything. It's 2008 and you still can't get past the racial issue?"
Perhaps the hardest part for the couple was explaining to their 9-year-old son why there were so many police cars in the yard last month, the meaning of burned crosses and the Ku Klux Klan, and why someone might not like the boy because of his skin color. It was a painful conversation the father said he never imagined having to have in this day and age.
But the family is determined to stay put, said the father, recalling that they have moved three times since Hurricane Katrina. "After my wife made me pack up all that stuff and move, I'm not going anywhere," he said with a laugh.
He called the vandalism a cowardly act born of ignorance, and a similar reaction on his part would amount to stooping to the culprit's level. As a father, he said, he must be a better model for his son.
"I still have to be a responsible adult in this house," he said. "We're trying to teach them that they should not live in fear, to speak when spoken to, keep your hands to yourself and respect others."
The family has been helped by neighbors who, one by one, came to their door and offered support as word of the incident spread. One of those neighbors was Dave Tibbetts, 52.
"It's just unbelievable that this would happen," Tibbetts said.
The family is confident that the guilty party will be caught. The father said he's not looking for a stiff jail sentence or fines, but for the perpetrator to be sentenced to community service in an African-American neighborhood.
"I want him . . . to come out of his comfort zone," the father said, "to see that black people are not animals. They are everyday people."
Anyone with information about the incident can call the FBI at (504) 816-3000 or the Sheriff's Office investigations bureau at (504) 364-5300