Residents in Savage’s Dufferin Park neighborhood came together to spread a message of inclusion this weekend after finding a racist slur spray-painted on the street and in a private driveway Saturday morning.
Several residents said they believe the vandalism targeted a family who had recently moved to the neighborhood. Savage Police are investigating the incident.
Neighborhood resident Lauren Albrecht said the community jumped in to help right away. When she returned home Saturday afternoon she found the entire sidewalk filled with positive chalk messages.
“We are a diverse neighborhood,” she said. “This is not OK, this will not take place in our neighborhood — we will not accept it.”
Jean Nordgren, a Dufferin resident for 24 years, said the incident was “a complete shock” to the neighborhood. Norgren and her husband hosted a dessert night at their home Sunday evening to give neighbors a chance to connect and meet newcomers.
Savage Public Works Director Greg Boatman and other city leaders visited with neighbors in the area Saturday morning in the wake of the incident.
“A guy across the street brought his power washer over, and he got to work and power-washed the sidewalk and got the messages off the sidewalk,” Boatman said. “Others brought cardboard and covered the message on the driveway.”
Despite windy fall weather, the city’s public works department completed a temporary sealcoat of the private driveway that morning. Boatman said the city will pay for a local seal-coating company to do a permanent coat in the coming days.
“It’s our way of showing support because this is just not tolerated in our community,” he said.
Police Capt. Bruce Simon said the investigation is ongoing, and police are working to determine whether or not anyone captured a possible suspect on their doorbell cameras. Burnsville and Savage school resource officers are also working to determine if any high school students have information about the incident.
“This behavior does not represent our city,” he said.
Standing before a packed crowd Thursday night, Burnsville High School senior Rahma Abdhullahi charged the community to begin an open conversation about race.
“It’s time we as a community recognize the harm we are causing our students and neighbors when we treat race as an untouchable topic,” Abdhullahi said.
Abdhullahi was one of more than 100 speakers, business and government leaders and other residents who gathered Sept. 26 for a community dialogue on race hosted by the Savage Police Department. The event filled the McColl Pond Environmental Learning Center for two hours.
In local schools, several students said racism is waiting as soon as they open the classroom door. It follows students of color — both implicitly and overtly — in their interactions with staff, administrators and classmates and seeps into everyday life.
Farida Osman, a senior at Burnsville High School, said thousands of everyday moments chip away at her and other students’ belief that they belong. Osman, a Somali-American Muslim, said she’s been called slurs and had her life threatened multiple times while in school. Attacks tear at her sense of safety and self.
She recounted one incident where a teacher stopped class when Osman entered to tell her that the regular course was down the hall. When Osman told her she was signed up for the advanced course, the teacher double-checked the roster before letting Osman take her seat among her peers.
“I spent the who class period wondering, should I just go to the office and drop the class?” Osman said. “I stayed, and I proved that I was worthy enough and I should be and I deserve to be in that class like everybody else.”
A similar event in Burnsville inspired Savage Police Chief Rodney Seurer to ask more questions in his family as well. Seurer said he called his daughter, who is biracial, ahead of the event to broach a subject they’ve never touched before.
“She struggled. I could tell from the outside that she was struggling in school, but I could never knew why,” Seurer said. “I’m finding out later in life that she struggled with who she was.”
“It made me realize, man, I should have had this talk a long, long time ago,” Seurer added.
Assistant Commissioner on Public Safety Booker Hodges said so often the biggest obstacle to moving forward on race is starting an honest and educated conversation.
“People of color often say white people don’t get it in regards to racism,” Hodges said. “White people typically say I don’t get it — why people of color still feel this way.
“The only way, in my opinion, that we can really start to overcome this is through education,” Hodges added.
Organizers gave residents several ways they can take on Hodges’ charge to educate. A pledge to commit to action encouraged residents to watch TED talks, films like “The Hate You Give” and subscribe to publications exploring race over the next year, for example.
Educators and parents who attended the event said they had hoped the next generation wouldn’t be bogged down by racial inequality. Now they’re not so sure.
Anab Abtow immigrated to the U.S. from Egypt while in high school. A graduate of Burnsville High School, she stayed in the area to raise her three kids and work in the district.
Abtow said kids gave her a hard time for her English skills in school, but she had high hopes that her children would feel comfortable. Instead she watched her kids lose interest in old friends and school as race-related bullying picked up in middle and high school.
“I felt like you’re from here, you shouldn’t be feeling that,” Abtow said. “But I guess it has nothing to do with where you were born. It’s your color and how you dress.”