Archive for Thursday, October 26, 2006

Probe under way in graffiti incident

October 26, 2006

City Administrator Mike Smith is promising a vigorous investigation into an incident this week in which graffiti with racial slurs was painted on an east Lansing garage near the home of a Hispanic family.

"We have zero tolerance for that, and we will put all of our resources into finding out who is responsible," Smith said.

The graffiti was reported to police Tuesday morning, Oct. 24, by Paul Schmidt of Leavenworth, who owns a rental home in the 200 block of South Second Street. Living in the house are Schmidt's son-in-law and daughter, Joe and Katherine Hibbs, and their family. Joe Hibbs is of Hispanic descent.

Across the lot and viewable from the home, the graffiti is sprayed on the back of the garage. Among its messages are Hispanic slurs, references to the Ku Klux Klan and crude, sexually explicit drawings.

Katherine Hibbs said she was saddened and frightened by the graffiti.

"I'm scared. It bothers me that somebody is painting 'KKK' and 'go home' on a barn," she said. "It's such a lovely, nice neighborhood, and nobody bothers anyone here."

Katherine Hibbs said this wasn't the first time the family had called police about an incident since they moved into the house about two years ago. In December 2005, cans of soda pop were exploded in their mailbox; in January 2006, they reported receiving prank phone calls.

But the graffiti marks the first time they've had to call police because of an issue related to race.

"Not only is it scary, it's hurtful and it's embarrassing," Katherine Hibbs said. "Lansing is a nice, sweet, quiet town. This is why we moved here, because it's a safe place to raise our children.

"But this is just a shame. I feel bad, too, because the old-timers in the neighborhood shouldn't have to see the filth on the side of that barn."

She said the graffiti likely would have to stay up until an insurance adjuster was able to come out to the garage. Police estimated it would cost about $300 to remove the graffiti.

Both Katherine Hibbs and her father praised the response of Lansing Police.

"The police have been very cooperative, very kind," Katherine Hibbs said. "They're very disgusted with the whole thing."

Police Capt. Ben Ontiveros said he could remember only a few instances of graffiti with sexually explicit drawings during his 12-year tenure in Lansing. He said he couldn't remember off the top of his head any instances in which racial slurs were used.

Smith, who has been with the city for 27 years - as a police officer and chief of police before becoming city administrator - said there have been racially motivated hate crimes in the city, including a cross burning several years ago.

But, he said, such crimes are exceptions.

"It's very rare, maybe two or three times in my 27 years," he said. "That's because once we find out somebody's doing it, we come down hard. We just will not put up with that kind of stuff."

Smith said such incidents showed the need for continual education.

"The key is to get people educated to the fact that we're all in this world together," he said.

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