Posted on April 20, 2005

Graffiti Said Hate Crime, But It Wasn’t the Last Word

Robert L. Jamieson Jr., Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Apr. 20

This is what it looks like when racial hate hits home.

A force of evil goes to the back of the house and breaks a window near a door. It reaches inside, turns the latch and enters. No one is inside.

A wood table becomes a quick target. It is spray-painted with the circled-A symbol for anarchy, which describes what is going to be unleashed in moments.

Sugar, flour and eggs are dumped in the kitchen. Turkey, crackers and bread from a $300 weekend grocery purchase are scattered like rubbish. A word is scrawled in orange on a wall: “fag.” The refrigerator gets a special branding of its own: “whore.”

Knives are used to stab the floor.

In the laundry room, glass is put inside clothes and crushed, leaving shards pressed into the fabric. An ax gouges holes in the walls of the master bedroom. A nearby entertainment center is knocked over, throwing heirloom encyclopedias to the ground.

A bedroom door is decorated with a swastika, while another surface is tattooed with “KKK.”

The invaders don’t spare the kids’ rooms. A child’s cherished guitar is trashed — just like the hopes of the innocent people who call this house in Everett home.

The family moved in more than a year ago. Actually, it was two families that came together to form one big, blended, multicultural Brady Bunch.

Wesley Washington, who is African American, had three boys. One day he needed a baby sitter and called on Crissy Kitchell, who worked at the local day care center.

Kitchell, a white, single mother of three boys and a set of twin girls, offered to watch Wesley’s kids.

Arrows of love flew.

The couple began building a new life in the sea-green, two-story house on Lower Ridge Road. It would be a safe place for their eight kids, ages 6 to 16.

The family felt safe until last week, when one of their kids, the 12-year-old, came home from school and saw what a human tornado had left behind.

The work of racists.

It looked that way.

Didn’t it?

Everett police implored the news media and public not to jump to the conclusion that a hate crime had been committed.

The police had reason for caution. Last year, Everett detectives investigated an arson fire at Continental Spices grocery, where racist graffiti about Arabs had been left. On the surface, the crime looked like racially motivated animus. Then, detectives revealed the graffiti was just a ruse to distract police from the true motive: arson to commit insurance fraud.

Folks didn’t heed last week’s admonition. They were quick to frame what happened as textbook hate.

And now this shocking turn: Police yesterday said they had arrested Crissy Kitchell’s 16-year-old son in connection with the crime. The boy “was angry” with his mom and with Washington, the detectives say.

The teen allegedly conspired with two other people, including a 19-year-old transient, to burglarize the home. Police say the 19-year-old had stayed with the family before being kicked out for stealing.

So what about the graffiti and acts of vandalism?

They were aimed at throwing off detectives, says police Sgt. Boyd Bryant. “No racial motivation here,” Bryant tells me. “He is a 16-year-old boy, and sometimes teenagers have issues.”

Plenty of issues, it would appear. This kid — if not motivated by racial hate — knew what buttons to push.

It is commendable that police investigators, upon seeing symbols of hate at the crime scene, kept cool heads.

Had police knee-jerked and confined their hunt to racists in white hoods, the suspected burglars might have gotten away with it, and everyone in the region would have been left to ponder about the hatemongers on the loose.

What looked like a racial hate crime apparently was not about race. Just about crime.

It was crime packaged in a sinister way, leaving a family, innocent and stunned, reeling and wondering about their neighbors.

It also touched off a heartening reaction.

After word spread about the damage to the house, a specialty painting company dropped by to help. Workers erased graffiti from the refrigerator and the walls and sanded down the marred table, making the anarchic scrawl go away.

The thinking was maybe a dozen people would show up on the rainy weekend to restore a shaken family’s faith.

Some 200 did.

Volunteers piled unsalvageable furniture on the lawn and hauled away more than a ton of trash. One church group brought food.

An interfaith organization offered comfort and handled a flood of donations, including new beds and a television to replace one that had been destroyed.

A few bad apples had shown humanity at its worst.

A community responded by showing its true colors — people at their very best.

This is what it looks like when love hits home.