The house, a three-bedroom cream-colored residence on a peaceful street, even had yellow and red roses waving merrily from the front lawn. And while the backyard was cramped, there was a nectarine tree, a red swing set and a small gazebo.
This is it, Channise Davy thought. Home.
Happy to have found a place near her salon in Altadena and close to her fiance in Pasadena, the 31-year-old hairdresser moved her four children from North Hollywood into the one-story charmer on Broach Avenue in Duarte last fall.
Davy never thought about the fact that they would be the only black family on the mostly Latino block–until someone reminded her in a way that still makes her eyes tear and her stomach twist.
On May 8, Davy opened the door to her home and was greeted by a barrage of spray-painted racial epithets. The hardwood floors, the mirrors, the televisions, the dressers–the vandals had turned the entire place into a canvas for that six-letter word used for decades to scare and scar African Americans.
Shaken, she immediately left and called police. And aside from one trip back to pick up some clothes, Davy has refused to return to a scene authorities believe was created by members of a local Latino gang.
The incident has been the talk of Duarte, a predominantly white and Latino bedroom community of 25,000 in the San Gabriel Valley. Black and Latino gangs have been active in the area for years, and last year a rash of interracial shootings occurred in nearby Monrovia.
Since the break-in, Davy and her children have lived in a hotel paid for by the county, but those funds ran out Saturday and she is struggling to find a new home in a place that feels safe.
As she spoke, Kenny Johnson was two miles away, lugging green garbage bags down the sidewalk of the working-class neighborhood where his children once played. The father of three of Davy’s children, he had come to the house that morning with his brother and two friends to begin clearing away what belongings could be salvaged.
Johnson said he plans to marry Davy, but he keeps his own apartment so she can maintain her Section 8 eligibility. They had discovered the Duarte house together and agreed: Beautiful home. Beautiful neighborhood.
But after the break-in, the 36-year-old barber sees only an intimidating residence littered with shards of glass. “We were quiet people, man,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief as he picked up children’s shoes and toys. His children haven’t seen the vandalism and only know that something bad happened there.
While his friends pulled a mattress out of the master bedroom, Johnson stopped to look at a wall calendar of Barack Obama. “This is the only thing they didn’t touch,” he said, smiling at the irony of hope hanging on one wall and hate spray-painted across the rest.
One of the few whites who live in the area, Peirce said she hadn’t thought about racial tension during the three decades she has lived on Broach Avenue. She never imagined anything would happen to her black neighbors, especially because they seemed like nice people who were often at work.