Editorial: Good news for refugees, and all of us
A man who fled genocide in Rwanda was later driven from Concord, spooked by racist graffiti scrawled on his home in 2011. As he told a friend at the time, in Rwanda your enemies write on your house before they kill you.
That our city could feel so threatening to a new resident is shameful indeed. And that makes the Concord Police Department’s long, hard work – and remarkable good luck – in tracking down a suspect in anti-refugee graffiti cases from both 2011 and 2012 all the more encouraging, and a welcome relief.
The police arrested Raymond “Raynard” Stevens this week, charging him with a special felony for criminal mischief, an offense that could bring a maximum prison sentence of 10 to 30 years. Specifically, he is accused of writing in black marker on the clapboards of three South End homes occupied by refugee families from Rwanda, Somalia and Congo. The messages were filled with hate. Refugee families were called “subhuman” and urged to “go back to your war torn land.” Refugee resettlement was described as “destroying our towns just to save a few doomed Africans.”
Authorities believe Stevens is also responsible for similar graffiti the following year, in which refugees were referred to as “scum” and “primitive beasts.”
So many months had passed since the graffiti first appeared that it seemed the trail had grown cold, that perhaps the police would never find the culprit, that the victims would never quite be able to fully relax in their adopted hometown. But a terrific break that linked the vandal’s handwriting to that of Stevens on a 2009 residential gun application provided the police with the strong clue they needed.
And as distressing as the graffiti incidents were, this week’s arrest provides several powerful lessons in the ability of the American system of crime and punishment to ultimately provide relief to those targeted by an ignorant bigot.
First, the police took the case seriously. Graffiti, alas, is everywhere – far too prevalent for law enforcement to ever entirely stamp it out. But this case was different: The threats were targeted at specific residents. They appeared not under a bridge or highway overpass but on those residents’ homes. They had the power to terrify: Clearly the culprit knew who lived in these houses. Clearly they were being watched.
The police – not to mention city and state politicians – understood quickly that the victims of this vandalism were not only the specific targeted families but also the city itself. Concord residents have worked hard in recent years to create a welcoming atmosphere for new neighbors from across the globe. A racist backlash had the power to tarnish the city’s good name.
Second, by tracking down a specific suspect in this case, the authorities were no doubt able to bring some peace of mind to the victims – and to other refugee families – that the culprit was likely a single individual, an aberration in a city that strives for better.
Third, the suspect will get his day in court. So far, he has simply been accused of a crime. His lawyer will have the opportunity to put forward the best possible defense. A judge and jury will weigh the evidence on both sides, in an atmosphere both civil and safe.
Finally, if Stevens is found guilty, he will pay a steep price for his crimes.
In many of the societies from which refugees flee, the rule of law is compromised or nonexistent. The graffiti aimed at Concord’s refugees was horrifying, but this week’s arrest is a powerful development in the opposite direction. With luck, it will help restore the faith of newcomers in Concord.