By Nona Tepper
Sometime between 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 12 and 9:20 a.m. on Oct. 13, someone scribbled "White Power," swastikas, and profanity on a garage on the 7700 block of Harvard, a townhome owned by an African-American woman.
The victim, who asked to remain anonymous over fears of retribution, said this is the first time her home has been vandalized in the 20 years she's lived on the block. She said she plans to leave the scribbles on her garage door, as a message that she's not intimidated, has no plans to move, and to raise awareness about the racist voices she believes President Donald Trump has elevated and empowered.
"Our president, I think his way of governing our country has given people courage to be prejudiced of different types of things, be it your religion, your ethnic beliefs, your culture, because he just says that, as president, I can do it and it's OK because he does," the woman said. "People have these views, and have had these views since before time. I thought we were growing to a place where we're educated enough to agree to disagree. If you don't want to live near me, don't come on my property because it's a private drive. Don't walk onto the property. But to do this, they went out of their way."
She said she arrived home about 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 12 and did not see the hate speech then. But the next morning, she woke to a phone call from a neighbor, alerting her that someone had defaced her garage. The victim said she called police before leaving her townhome because she was scared about what she might encounter outside.
When she saw the chicken scratch handwriting, she felt numb.
"I became a little afraid like, 'What's going to happen? Does this mean they're going to burn a cross on my house or lynch me?' I'm 58 and I've never had to deal with this, and I grew up in white suburbia in the '60's. I've never had to deal with this and I didn't know how to feel," she said.
The victim said she left for a memorial service about an hour later, caught up with a friend for dinner in the Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago and then talked on the phone the entire way home, afraid of what she might find when she arrived in Forest Park. When she approached her block, she saw a neighbor outside who escorted her to her driveway.
"I want people to know this is happening in our community," she said. "I was just gullibly feeling like I was safe over here for the last 20 years. It's put a new twist on it. It's real. You might not be black but we're human beings and this kind of stuff shouldn't be happening. Like I said, I want some exposure. I don't want to come up dead or missing and nobody knows why."
She called the offender a coward. "If you really feel that way, tattoo it on your forehead, don't sneak behind my back in the dark and say 'Hi' to me the next day." She said she has no idea who would have committed this crime. She moved to the townhome on the 7700 block of Harvard in January 1999, seeking diversity from west suburban Rolling Meadows, where she lived before. Over the two decades she has lived here, she said, the neighborhood and block have been welcoming.
Now she plans to install security cameras, check the cameras every time before she leaves her home and apply for a concealed-carry firearm license.
"There is that parking lot behind our property. It's one of those Forest Park lots; it's fairly new, been there maybe a year or so. There is an influx of people coming and going. Maybe somebody there has seen me," she said. "I would find it very hard to believe that somebody who lives in these homes did this."
Police Chief Thomas Aftanas called the vandalism an isolated incident and said the department does not have a suspect at this time. Officers, he added, are going to keep extra watch in the area, particularly at her residence. He said detectives are investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.
"The victim herself said there haven't been any incidents with neighbors or anything. It's obvious, I would think, that the suspect knows that an African-American lives there; otherwise it would just be a huge coincidence," he said. "It could be someone who is just passing through and maybe seen her. But I don't know for sure."
Aftanas said victims of hate crimes should report the incident or any suspicious persons to the Forest Park Police Department and stay vigilant.