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Denver house sprayed with racist slurs becomes teaching moment



Devin Meade saw an educational opportunity in the markings on her home. - KEN JENKINS
  • Ken Jenkins
  • Devin Meade saw an educational opportunity in the markings on her home.
Saturday, March 2, was cold and snowy.

Devin Meade was at home with her family, engaged in the normal activities. The kids were watching TV. She was cooking dinner while helping her husband, Ken Jenkins, with a remodel of their bedroom.

The dogs barked. But a quick check of the windows revealed nothing more than the snowy weather outside. It wasn’t until later, when Jenkins stepped outside to smoke a cigarette, that he found someone had, in fact, been outside his home.

Whoever it was had spray-painted the house with racist slurs and death threats.

Jenkins moved inside cautiously, wanting to tell Meade without scaring the children.

“I need to prepare you for what you’re about to see,” Meade remembers her husband saying.

Turning the corner outside her front door, Meade saw her home sprayed with blue paint with misspelled variations of the N-word written everywhere. Just above the chair where her husband sits to smoke his cigarettes, someone had painted a stick figure with a noose around its neck.

Meade and Jenkins, who both identify as multiracial and African-American, live on the edge of the Whittier and Five Points neighborhoods — areas that were historically predominantly African-American because of racist redlining home sale practices in Denver.

And the attack too recalls a time of stark racial division, enforced by spreading fear. You don’t have to travel back in time very far to get to a period when marking a home in this manner clearly communicated the threat of a very real lynching. Devin remembers listening to her grandparents tell her stories as a child. They had migrated from the South, where they had witnessed lynchings.

Perhaps the markings on the Jenkins-Meade house also alluded to a real threat. There’s no doubt that they were intended to illicit the fear that is woven into the fabric of black American heritage.

“This goes so deep ... don’t call it graffiti,” Meade says. “This was a death threat.”

As Meade and her husband were lying in bed that night, processing their initial feelings and how to handle the situation, Meade says the mama bear in her wanted to find a way to fight back.

“How dare you do this while my children are inside?” she thought.

As the night wore on, rage turned to a deep sense of hurt.

“Why is this on my house?” she remembers thinking. “You can feel however you want to feel about how I identify, or how you identify me, but why does this have to be on my house?”

Later, after seeing video footage from a neighbor’s camera, Meade says it was evident that the person was in no hurry and had no fear of confrontation.

She decided to leave the graffiti up.

Meade says she made her decision because she wanted to fight — not just this perpetrator but against racism in general.

“I’m not about to hide in my house,” she says. “I’m not about to be shamed because you’re ignorant. I’m not going to be fearful based on this action.”

What Meade saw amidst all the ugliness painted on her home was the opportunity for a teaching moment. “I think the image we try to portray in [Denver] is it’s a fast-moving [progressive] city. It’s continuing to boom. It’s evolving,” she says. “...[Hate crimes] are not common but [they do] happen.”

(And here’s a shocker for those who have bought into the state’s increasingly progressive image: According to a recent report released by the Anti-Defamation League, Colorado ranked third in the country for the distribution of white supremacist propaganda.)

After the decision to leave up the threats, it went from a topic discussed at the Jenkins-Meade family dinner table to a much wider community conversation. Images of the home went viral. Normally a very private person, Meade has welcomed hundreds of people to stand in front of her house to snap pictures and post them on social media to express their feelings about the hate crime.

The conversation, in fact, reached the other side of the globe. Meade’s family heard from Australians just days before the mosque attacks in New Zealand that claimed 50 lives.

Meade says that if any good has come from this, it’s just that: It’s spurred so much conversation. “One [white] family came to my house and had just read The N Word [: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t, and Why, a book by Jabari Asim] to their children the week before,” Meade says. “...[The mother] brought her kids out to expand on what she was already teaching her children.”

And while her initial reaction was anger, Meade says it’s been her ability to remain calm that’s allowed this message to spread as far as it has. “I’m not screaming in anger,” she explains. “So I think it allows [for those conversations] to happen... This is so in your face, that people are having to look at their own ‘-isms,’ whatever they may be.”

And she says that she doesn’t want to limit the conversation to only people of color, either. “This is a conversation that should be for everyone,” she says. “... Everyone should be offended by this... This is happening everywhere to melanated people.”

And Meade also wants to point out that it isn’t just white people that are racist or anti-black.

“People want to put this as a white-black thing,” she says, “...[But] there is white-black [racism], brown-black [racism], white-brown [racism].”

Meade says this incident has forced hard conversations within her and her husband’s own multiracial family. In fact, she says her husband’s mother sent a message to various family members asking, “Is this you?”

Although it’s jarring being in the public eye, and to have to discuss such personal and hurtful topics, Meade says she wants the ultimate outcome of this hate crime to be a kinder and better world. And that’s reflected in one of the rallying cries that followed the crime, also the title of a community gathering held in its wake: Love beats hate.

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