A Community Response
to Hate Graffiti in SE Olympia

Report from Kathy Baros Friedt & Anna Schlecht
Unity in the Community ~ April 17, 2007

Unity and other community members hastily organized a positive and affirming community response to hate graffiti this past April 13th. Tapping many community resources, we worked with neighbors to host an event to clean up the graffiti and affirm our that community values diversity and stands united against hate.  


On April 9th, residents on Olympia’s SE side awoke to find racist & anti-semetic graffiti. The Olympia article featured one of the local residents, Lydell Spry whose vehicle was tagged with racist slurs. Other neighbors found similar graffiti on vehicles, houses and fences in the neighborhoods of Greenfield, Craig, and Kempton neighborhoods, off of 18th Avenue SE, just South of I-5.  


On the 11th, UITC brought together some of its members, and invited Art Constantino, Evergreen State College Vice President of Student Affairs and Ed Sorger, the Evergreen campus police chief to plan an immediate response effort. Marc Brenman, the Executive Director and Kathy Baros Friedt the Chair respectively of Washington State Human Rights Commission hosted the meeting. Lydell Spry, whose story had been highlighted in The Olympian also attended to share his story. His was the vehicle had racist graffiti.  


Goals for response to the neighborhoods were two:  

1) Organize the immediate removal of the graffiti

2) Create and event that would demonstrate community support of the affected neighborhoods.   

With Lydell 's guidance, we planned for a clean up and community event in the neighborhood mid-day on April 13th. The plan was clean-up paired with on-the-spot community meeting to be held in Lydell's garage, which offered protection from the rain. Ruth Elder, staff to the Thurston Council on Cultural Diversity, put together 200 florescent green flyers for hand delivery on Thursday, announcing to the residents, plans for the Friday gathering.

The Olympian interviewed Lydell and Unity member Anna Schlecht to announce Friday’s events. An unexpected wrinkle was that over-night, additional graffiti had appeared. Most of the new graffiti appeared to be gang tagging, although one truck was sprayed with "hate" was also new.

On Friday the 13th, approximately 20 plus community people attended the neighborhood gathering. Kathy Baros Friedt, Chair of the Washington State Human Rights Commission served as our MC. Among the attendees were Lydell's boxing class, a multi-cultural group of teenagers that he coaches. Approximately six UITC members attended. Community leaders who attended and made comments to the community were Olympia Mayor Mark Foutch, Olympia Police Chief Gary Michel, and property developer Tri Vo of Tri-Way Enterprises. who has been supportive of Lydell's Thurston County Police Athletic League (PAL) Boxing Academy. Matt Grant, Principal of Olympia High School attended and shared some of his students efforts to support neighborhood residents by offering flowers and letters of support. Former State Representative Sandra Romero attended as both a neighbor and a community leader.


Other participants included Marc Brenman, Executive Director of the Washington Human Rights Commission, Art Constantino, the Evergreen State College Vice President of Student Affairs and Ed Sorger Evergreen State College Chief of Campus Police, and Tom Carr of Thomas Carr Painting.


We heard from Lydell Spry, Mrs. Kaminda (whose white van was sprayed with a swastika and the word "skin"), and other neighbors about how these acts of graffiti had been shocking/horrible/mortifying/embarrassing. One woman of color spoke out that she had experienced nothing by support from this neighborhood at a time she had been ill and she wanted the world to know this was not a racist neighborhood. Susie described what it was like to walk out her door in the morning and see the racist comment on Lydell's van. Lydell spoke about the need to continue to work with youth so that they have positive experiences and develop self-confidence. Anyone who wanted to support the boxing academy could donate through Washington State Employees Credit Union, under Police Athletic League. Many comments were made by neighbors appreciating the UITC response.

Just that morning, Mayor Foutch had made arrangements with a local auto body shop for the two residents who had had their vehicles spray painted, to take their vehicles in. The clean up crew, headed by Art Constantino, Ed Sorger and Tom Carr, used silver paint for the mailboxes, a power washer to clean a cedar fence as good as new, and spray painted the white fences. At the end of the day these volunteers had erased all traces of the hate graffiti.

Most of the community members took the UITC posters/stickers to put in their windows. Starbuck's coffee was donated by downtown Starbuck's. Many munchies were donated by UITC members. Alice Curtis took many photos.

Though it had rained hard prior to and after the gathering, it did not rain during the event!  


Stars of the day were Art Constantino, Ed Sorger, and Tom Carr who scoped out the damage, made trips to Home Depot and spent the afternoon doing graffiti clean up. They were selfless and cheerful!


This event was covered by KIRO 7 TV news and was previewed by the Olympian. The participants all carried their experiences with them to share the value of this response word of mouth. 


Perhaps the greatest impact was on the neighborhood children who saw both the ugliness of the graffiti as well as the beauty of an affirming community response.

While the criminal justice system will deal with the juvenile(s) who committed this graffiti, it is up to the community to help repair the social fabric that is torn when hate speech or other hate activity occurs. Graffiti can be erased, the fear that it causes takes more time to heal. Our presence and our compassion are essential to rebuilding faith that our community honors and celebrates diversity.  

This rapid response once again shows the value of people coming together to support Unity in the Community as the best way to confront hate. 

Many folks came together quickly, worked seamlessly and mobilized a remarkable show of support for the neighborhood. Great job everyone!



PS – As always, there is more to say and do. We will host a meeting on May 30th to firm up our rapid response protocol. Alice Curtis, Lynn Grotsky, Kathy Baros Friedt and Barb Gross will work up proposal to create an even more effective means of rapid response that engages the broadest segments of our community. 


For more current notices see:
Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace

Olympia Unity in the Community