Keyed car prompts city to speak out against racism

After finding a racial slur scrawled on his car’s dirty hood, then buying a different car that same day and discovering it keyed two days later, a Falcon Heights man turned to police officers for help. After three days of finding “Post-it notes” on his front door with slanderous remarks about his ethnicity and appearance, a Roseville resident finally called police. But Carolyn Curti, Roseville communications specialist and the city’s Human Rights Commission liaison, suspects that many similar “racial-bias incidents” go unreported. “Generally, there haven’t been a whole lot lately, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going on,” she said.

Falcon Heights takes action

When the Falcon Heights man left his residence on the 1400 block of California Avenue Aug. 6 with his son, who needed a ride to Shakopee, and saw, “Go to hell blaky” written on the hood of his car, he took the word “blaky” to mean “blacky,” in reference to his race, according to St. Anthony police reports. But instead of calling the police immediately, the man went on with his day as planned, which included selling the car and purchasing a new one. If the new one had not been scratched with a key two days later on Aug. 8, the man might never have reported the first incident. “He stated he did not notify police immediately as that thought did not occur to him until (the) later incident. ... The resident was concerned that he might have been targeted for a crime,” an officer wrote in a report. Although the Falcon Heights man told police he hasn’t experienced any similar incidents in the seven years he has lived in Falcon Heights, and police and city officials have no record of similar incidents happening to any Falcon Heights resident in recent history, this incident has caused the city to take action. The city’s first step was to condemn the act in a letter to the editor submitted to the Roseville-Little Canada Review and signed by city officials as well as representatives from the St. Anthony Police Department, Falcon Heights Elementary School and Falcon Heights United Church of Christ. “We deplore any act in our city or county that gives a direct or indirect message that persons of any group, ethnic background, or orientation are not welcome here,” the letter said. “This incident does not represent the values of this community nor the message we want to extend to our increasingly diverse neighborhoods.” The city’s next steps will be to send “crime alert” flyers to residents in the neighborhood, add five commissioners to the current two-member Falcon Heights Human Rights Commission and hold several community discussions about community building, change within the community and tolerance to be sponsored by the Human Rights and Neighborhood commissions, Falcon Heights Mayor Sue Gehrz said. She believes these measures will help the city and its residents recognize the slowly growing minority population, which rose from 17.5 percent in 1990 to 22.3 percent in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (Roseville’s non-white population was 4.9 percent in 1990 and 10.5 percent in 2000). “(Although) it’s really difficult to know what motivates people to do these really terrible things,” Gehrz said. “We need to recognize that our city is becoming more diverse.” And the community has already responded. “There are a lot of people who have expressed interest in serving on the Human Rights Commission,” Gehrz said. The commission can have up to seven members, but its ranks have diminished to two commissioners since it was established in the 1970s and it hasn’t been active in the community because “there has been no need” — until now. “I guess it’s always been there,” said Richard Lamb, Falcon Heights City Council member and former human rights commissioner. “It just kind of swings into action when circumstances warrant, and this circumstance definitely warrants looking into and taking some action.” Victims reluctant to report crimes But even Roseville’s Human Rights Commission, which was established in 1968, is fully staffed with seven commissioners, and is active in its community, has not been able to address the community about some of the incidents residents have reported. “I know that, informally, we had a person in the last year where her son was riding a bike and had racial epithets yelled at him,” Curti said. “But she didn’t want us to do anything, and we don’t push it if they don’t want to.” Curti said the Post-it note incident that occurred in the 500 block of Iona Lane in Roseville has not yet been reported to the Human Rights Commission. “If it’s a probable hate crime (police) do let the commissioners know,” she said. “My guess is I will be hearing from them shortly.” But even when something is done, as in Falcon Heights, some worry about attracting too much attention. Kay Andrews, one of the Falcon Heights Human Rights Commissioners who signed the letter to the editor and knows the victim well said worriedly, “I don’t want anything about him in the paper...that would just make him a target.”

No leads

As of Aug. 16, Capt. John Ohl of the St. Anthony Police Department said the police have no suspects in or witnesses to the Aug. 6 and Aug. 8 incidents in Falcon Heights, but Gehrz hopes the crime alert flyers will help remedy that, at least in the case of future incidents. “When we have a pattern of crimes, or serious crimes, in the neighborhood we try and alert residents to get them to pay attention to their environments and not hesitate to contact police,” she said. “The community at large is very eager to help out, respond and work on these kinds of issues. That’s a good thing, and something that we would expect from Falcon Heights.” No one with knowledge of the incident that occurred in Roseville could be reached for comment.

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