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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Dozens gather to support Spokane MLK Center after racist graffiti is spray-painted on the building

Racist graffiti was found on the side of the house that is part of the Martin Luther King Jr. center in the Perry district on Tuesday morning Nov. 15, 2016. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
By Rachel Alexander and Jonathan Glover The Spokesman-Review

The day a racial slur was discovered spray-painted on Spokane’s Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center, dozens of people gathered in solidarity to denounce the act and paint over the red graffiti.

Staff at the center found the graffiti on the side of the building when they came in to work Tuesday morning. Freda Gandy, the center’s director, said some of the children saw it before heading to school.

“Our kids should not have to see this,” she said. “It’s not OK.”

At noon, Gandy and Phil Tyler, president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, spoke to a crowd of people that included Spokane Mayor David Condon and Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer, in addition to police officers and community members.

Gandy said she shouldn’t have to worry about shielding children from seeing the N-word spray-painted on their building before school.

“We didn’t ask for this,” she said. “Our kids didn’t ask for this.”

Tyler addressed the crowd and asked for them to all look at the red letters in front of them and see “racism’s ugly face.”

“I say to the individuals who did this: ‘You did not break us,’ ” he said to the crowd. “You strengthened our resolve. You strengthened our resolve.”

After they were done speaking, members of the crowd grabbed paint brushes and began painting over the red lettering while others sang a song about peace.

Tyler, meanwhile, urged the people who came out in support to continue their activism moving forward.

“We don’t want this to just be a photo op,” he said.

The MLK Family Outreach Center provides education, recreation and cultural activities for children and families. Gandy, who’s worked at the center for 16 years, said she believes this is the first time they’ve had any racial epithets spray-painted on the building.

In addition to the word on the building, a van at the center had illegible spray paint on it.

“It looks like they practiced on the van before they painted on the wall,” said Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart.

Spokane police are investigating the incident as a hate crime, department spokesman Officer Shane Phillips said. Officers canvassed the area after the graffiti was reported, looking for discarded cans of paint, but were unable to find anything.

There are no suspects, Phillips said. He was unsure whether investigators have recovered video footage that might help with identifying a suspect.

Following the event, Condon and Stuckart released a joint statement praising the crowd that gathered to support the center after word of the graffiti spread Tuesday morning.

“The outpouring of community support for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Family Outreach Center today was remarkable, humbling and exemplified everything that is right about Spokane,” the statement said.

State Sen. Andy Billig and state Reps. Timm Ormsby and Marcus Riccelli, all Democrats from Washington’s 3rd District, which covers most of Spokane, released a joint statement condemning the graffiti.

“We are outraged that recent events have increased hate crimes against people of color and varying religious backgrounds across our country. And we are deeply saddened that we are seeing those same actions in our community. Spokane is better than this,” the statement said.

Gov. Jay Inslee also addressed the incident. He tweeted, “Today’s incident in Spokane is just one attempt to divide us with fear and intolerance, something that has no place in Washington.”

Across the United States, alleged hate crimes have seen an apparent uptick since the presidential election, though President-elect Donald Trump has denounced the acts, telling those who have committed them to “stop it” during a “60 Minutes” interview.

In the Inland Northwest, there have been at least two other known incidents since the presidential election.

On Thursday, a Washington State University student found gay slurs painted on his car.

On Friday, Neal Schindler, the director of Spokane Area Jewish Family Services who is also a part-time copy editor at The Spokesman-Review, posted a photo to Facebook of a swastika and an anti-Semitic remark drawn on someone’s car windshield.