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CONCORD

Refugee homes targeted

Malicious graffiti called hate crime

Manessee Ngendahayo proudly held the small vase of mismatched wild flowers and pointed at the note attached.

"I wanted you to know I am glad to have you in my community," the note from "Cheryl" read.

Ngendahayo doesn't know who Cheryl is, but her words and gift are a comfort to him, he said: "This, this is what we have found here in Concord. Not that."

"That" is the paragraph of racist, xenophobic graffiti Ngendahayo's family found on the front of their Perley Street house Sunday morning.

Two other families in the neighborhood, all refugees from Africa, found similar graffiti on their homes.

Written in a small scrawl of black marker across the white clapboards of all three houses, the graffiti declares with slurs that the city was better before refugees resettled here.

"Your subhuman culture has already brought many crimes linked to your mud people," one of the messages reads. Another says "the church is destroying our towns just to save a few doomed Africans. This is a bad joke on us."

The third, at Ngendahayo's house, begins with, "You are not welcome here. You lower the value and safety of our good town. . . You bring death wherever your cursed people go."

The Concord police are treating the incident as a hate crime, according to a news release from Concord Regional Crimeline.

"It appears that the victims were deliberately targeted based on their race and/or culture. The messages were intended to cause fear and alarm to those who read them," the release read.

People convicted of a misdemeanor that is ruled a hate crime are eligible for a tougher sentence, between 2 and 5 years in prison, according to state law.

The words are aimed at hurting them, but the Ngendahayo family said the hardest part is not knowing who wrote such hate-filled manifestos. What matters most to them is not the punishment the defacer receives if convicted, but that the person is identified.

"The justice (system) will know what to do. But myself, my faith calls for me to forgive. I just need to know who it is to feel safe," Ngendahayo said.

"We need to know who it is. If he can write this today, we don't know what he can do tomorrow. Maybe we can meet him on the road somewhere and we do not know it is him. Until they have found him, we will not feel safety."

The Concord police began increased patrols Sunday night through the neighborhood of Perley Street and Downing Street, and other neighborhoods where a large number of resettled refugees live, according to Sgt. John Thomas.

"Any incident like this we take very serious," Thomas said. "It doesn't matter where you come from - your walk of life - everybody deserves to live in a community free of concern for their safety or being singled out. It's very appalling to us that somebody would take the time to do something like this."

Several times on Sunday afternoon and evening, a police cruiser parked near the house, and several times it drove by, Ngendahayo said, and that makes him feel safer.

"But still we don't know who did this," said his wife Odiya. "All the children were so scared, they would not sleep in separate rooms, but slept all together in one room. I woke up three times to see my daughter sitting up awake. I asked her why and she said 'I am scared.' "

The graffiti outside Ngendahayo's house ends with the note, "we are sick of paying for your free ride," echoing a theme from all three messages.

Ngendahayo said he didn't know what the saying "free ride" meant. In addition to taking classes at NHTI, he works as an aide to people with brain injuries living in a group home, and is the pastor of the Rest for the Nations Church in Concord. His wife is currently taking classes at Second Start to improve her English so she can find work. Their daughters are both graduates of Concord High School and are attending community college in Boston.

The other families who were attacked are from Somalia and the Congo. They are not close friends of the Ngendahayos, though their children all attend Rundlett Middle School, and members of all three families attend classes at NHTI.

Ngendahayo said he learned this weekend that another family of African refugees received a similar note stuffed under their apartment door last year. Concord is home to approximately 800 resettled refugees, most from Bhutan, and he is concerned that only African families are being targeted, he said.

Though his sense of safety is shaken, his belief in the community is not, he said.

Pointing to the pink note from the mysterious "Cheryl," he said he had a message for whoever defaced his home.

"Whatever you write, it doesn't change my relationship with all the people who welcomed me here for nine years. The people who surround me and my family are strong friends who love me and love them," he said. "I know where I stand."

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com.)

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