Racism Rears Its Shaved Head Reports Of Hate Crimes On The Rise As Skinheads Make Their Presence Felt On Sherman Avenue
Racial epithets were scrawled across the car in black marker.
Fourteen handwritten messages posted on the vehicle contained racial slurs and swastikas, demanding that the car’s owners move away. One message threatened death.
A young Coeur d’Alene couple - the husband African American and the wife Caucasian - woke up one morning earlier this week to find themselves the target of racial hatred.
The harassment is part of a continuing problem with racists and skinheads in Coeur d’Alene this summer - a problem police and business owners say began in April during the Aryan Youth Conference in Hayden Lake.
Young skinheads have been gathering along Sherman Avenue, causing minor disturbances and frightening people, said Suzanne Kaderka, executive director of the Coeur d’Alene Downtown Association.
“It is having an effect on some of our businesses, which is sad because they did nothing to warrant this,” she said. “It’s not just a downtown issue, it’s a community issue. Unfortunately it’s happening in our living room.”
Coeur d’Alene Police Lt. Don Jiran said the department has received several complaints of skinheads trying to fight African Americans and other minorities - especially since the Aryan meeting. But he said most victims haven’t wanted to file police reports.
Anne McKendrick, manager of Java on Sherman, has watched the skinheads start fights and scare customers.
She’s seen them pull out billy clubs and knives and yell obscenities across the street.
“They’re just always gathering people together and basically starting stuff up,” she said. “They are very intimidating.”
An 18-year-old woman suspects two skinheads tried to break into her car and set the inside on fire last week, according to a Coeur d’Alene police report.
The night after a skinhead swore at her and called her a Jew, she watched two young men run away from her car, parked near her home. They had set her coat on fire in the back seat.
The vandals were not caught.
The Coeur d’Alene couple - who asked that their names not be used to prevent retaliation - filed a police report after finding their brand-new car vandalized on Monday.
“KKK” had been written on the hood. The top of the car had been scratched. The notes demanded that the couple move away or face retaliation.
The wife said she was more shocked by it than her husband. “My husband is actually used to it,” she said. “But as a white person, we do not usually have to deal with that sort of thing.”
Parker Toyota, the company that sold the couple the car, was so outraged by the incident that it removed the graffiti and scratches from the car for free.
Authorities say the influx of skinheads into the area has not been large - their numbers and activity always fluctuates.
McKendrick said that shortly after the April conference about 15 skinheads showed up around her shop. Since then the numbers have dwindled.
Kootenai County Sheriff’s Detective Jerry Wiedenhoff keeps track of Aryan activity in the county and believes five or six youths are at the root of the concerns. The skinheads, in their teens to early 20s, appear to have moved to the Aryan Nation compound from the Midwest, he said.
Jiran said racist activity usually increases in the summer as more people show up in Coeur d’Alene.
And Wiedenhoff pointed out that the annual Aryan World Conference will soon be held in Hayden - from July 19 to 21.
Still, McKendrick has been surprised by the skinhead disturbances. “I’ve lived here for six years and I’ve never seen any except in Hayden,” she said.
Concerned downtown business owners recently met with police to talk about preventing more problems.
“We’re doing everything we can to clean it up,” Kaderka said, praising the police department’s effort to curb the problem. “Every single time we see something, we call the police. And they’re presenting citations for every legal reason they can find - they’re in zero tolerance.”
Despite the car vandalism, the couple that was harassed believes the vandalism is the product of a small minority that thrives on negativity.
“We’re not going to let these people damage Coeur d’Alene,” the wife said. “There are wonderful people here. I want people to know that this is a great place to live.”