Durham County

Racist images erased in favor of messages of welcome, love on Prince Street

Prince Street resident Heidi Hannapel and her Plott Hound examine new uplifting chalk drawings on the tarmac.
Prince Street resident Heidi Hannapel and her Plott Hound examine new uplifting chalk drawings on the tarmac. The Herald-Sun

Prince Street residents say they and their neighbors pride themselves on their collective quirkiness.

Early Tuesday night, the neighborhood’s collective mood was that of shock. Someone had used children’s sidewalk chalk to scrawl racist symbols on the street itself.

A couple of swastikas were there, along with “KKK” inscribed above a phallic symbol.

Around 9 p.m. Tuesday, an email was sent out to the Anderson Wrightwood Park listserv alerting its subscribers that a jogger had spotted “racist and graphic” images on Prince Street, said Mindy Oshrain.

“I was very upset and didn’t know what to do about it,” Oshrain said.

But then, she remembered reading an article about German graffiti artist Ibo Omari, the leader of the “Paintback” campaign to eliminate neo-Nazi graffiti in Berlin. Spray-painting over the top of pro-Nazi sentiments, Omari transformed swastikas into cartoons and cute pictures of animals.

“And I sent out another email on the listserv,” Oshrain said. “And I said let’s meet tomorrow at eight o’clock — I’ll bring the chalk— and we’ll turn the graffiti into animals or into creative things.”

Over the course of Wednesday morning, Oshrain said, a dozen neighbors “showed up and covered the street with hearts and peace symbols.”

Hearts of different colors covered Prince Street. A rainbow and a horse were drawn. Peace signs and messages of love and welcome covered the asphalt.

“Mindy brought her chalk, others brought their chalk and there’s a chalk box at the edge of the street for people who have been invited via the listserv who may continue coming and continue the work,” said Prince Street resident Heidi Hannapel.

Hannapel never actually saw the racist graffiti.

“Someone must have taken a bucket of water or something washed away the graffiti as soon as they had seen the listserv,” she said. “Because I never saw the swastikas or the drawing. They definitely were gone by the morning.”

In the morning, Hannapel wrote the words “LOVE THIS WAY” and “LOVE THAT WAY” in chalk next to two Public Works utility arrows pointing in opposite directions.

“This in no way compares to the violence that our community is experiencing everyday. So, there is a piece of me that wonders, ‘does it have weight?’” Hannapel said. “Yeah. Yes, it does. A little drop-in-the-bucket kind of weight.

“The small things that we do. The fact that we wanted to erase the negativity and the hatred and reenforce the love that is on this street and in this neighborhood, it just brought people out of their houses this morning,” she said Wednesday.

Hannapel’s neighbor Gabrielle Boldt has a theory about the motive behind the racist graphics.

Many Prince Street homes placed “Welcome Signs” in their yards this past fall and winter. The signs displayed words of welcome and kindnesses written in various languages, including Arabic.

Oshrain’s sign was stolen the same night the swastikas appeared.

“Those signs have been up since January and mine went up pretty soon after the election,” Hannapel said. “And when that article came out in The Herald-Sun about signs being burned, I went away that weekend and when I got back mine wasn’t here.”

Boldt said the house across the street from Hannapel’s home is up for sale and last week, she witnessed a realtor taking pictures of that house as part of the listing process.

“Those pictures might have been put online,” Boldt said. “There are some people ... who might have seen the Welcome Sign and thought, ‘What is that? Muslim?”

Boldt believes Arabic writing may have angered a certain segment of the population.

Neither the identity of the person or persons responsible for the racist graffiti or their motivations, are actually known.

“As quakers we say, ‘The light that shines in us all,’” Hannapel said. She said, Prince Street residents’ sketching and chalk writings were a way of expressing that positively charged inner-light.