2008-08-19 Grand Rapids Press & Muskegon Chronicle "Driveway slur angers family"

Racial slur painted on driveway angers family
The Grand Rapids Press


Avelock Robinson's voice was heavy with disappointment.

"I certainly think that for this to happen at this stage in our history, to see what someone does in our community ... makes me very, very disappointed.

"And very angry that they would display racial bias the way they did."

Robinson, his wife and three children woke Monday to find a caricature face and ethnic slur painted on the driveway of their suburban home not far from Lake Michigan.

The raw image is jarring in the quiet subdivision of newer homes lining winding roads. In black paint on faded gray asphalt is an ugly face underscored with "nigger" in foot-high block letters, high up the drive sloping up a dune.

The Robinsons' report was one of six taken by sheriff's deputies Monday in the neighborhood. Most involved paint on driveways, but the only identifiable wording was on the Robinsons' drive.

"We're from Jamaica, and we read about racial issues, but we somehow associated the northern part of the U.S. with people who are more diverse, more open to diversity, so to see something like this leaves us disappointed," Robinson said.

An assistant production manager at Consumers Energy's J.H. Campbell power plant, Robinson brought his family here in 2005.

"We migrated to the U.S. with the expectation that we can continue to build a successful life."

He paused and sighed deeply.

"I just never thought we would be exposed to an overt racial attack as occurred."

Leaving for a morning bike ride, Robinson's son, Darve, 16, was the first to see the vandalism. "I think he was very frightened," his father said.

Pointing out the fear and hatred inherent in the slur, Gail Harrison, executive director of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance, rejected any attempt to dismiss the act as simple vandalism. Everyone from second grade on knows the terrible history brought to mind by the epithet, she said.

These activities, these ethnic intimidations and hate crimes, are not random," she said. "Certainly this was an act of hate targeted at this family based on the color of their skin."
Harrison called on the community to respond.

"We need to let this family know we value them, and also need to let the people who did this know we are supporting the police and advocating a full prosecution. We need to say as a community that we will not tolerate this behavior."

Ottawa County Sheriff's Lt. Mark Bennett said the six reports taken Monday in the Robinsons' neighborhood included paint on driveways and a boat, broken windows and a theft.

He said the paint other than at the Robinsons' house appeared to be random markings.

"The situation is consistent, in my experience, with kids going up and down the neighborhood causing havoc," he said.

But that said, he noted that while the general criminal activity did not appear to be targeted at anyone, the racial slur obviously was aimed at the Robinsons.

While destruction of property valued at less than $1,000 is a misdemeanor, ethnic intimidation is a two-year felony. Ethnic intimidation involves harassment or damage because of race, religion, gender, national origin or color.

Robinson said the family has not had other serious incidents since moving here.

His children -- Darve and daughters Daina, 13, and Dariell, 11 -- are fitting in, doing well academically and socially at school, he said.

"We have seen things that caused us to question persons' reactions towards us, but never had any overt racial attack as we have seen this morning."

The fact that his house was the only one targeted with a slur worries him.

"That leads me to believe the individual or individuals involved actually were aware of us residing at the house," he said. "It's not someone from outside who is unfamiliar with us."

"Obviously, now we need to take another look at our security as a family -- where we go, how we go, when we travel," he said.

And that the vandalism might be teenage mischief is no excuse to Robinson.

"This is totally unacceptable, respective of their age and background," he said. "I think there must be a seed planted there, for them to act that way."