Racist graffiti in Norman similar to OKC incident
NORMAN — Racist graffiti found Wednesday morning at three buildings, including an elementary school and the county's Democratic Party office, brought a city councilwoman to tears.
"I’d like to say that it’s surprising to me that this kind of thing still happens in 2019, but it is not," said Norman councilwoman Kate Bierman, who is Jewish. "It is surprising that they were as vocal as they were and as public as they were."
Police are investigating the Norman incidents at Firehouse Art Center, McKinley Elementary and the Cleveland County Democratic Headquarters, where vandals spray-painted swastikas, ethnic slurs and other racist graffiti.
Last week, similar graffiti messages were found at the Oklahoma Democratic Party and Chickasaw Nation buildings in Oklahoma City.
Bierman cried when she saw the damage that had been done to a prominent plaster sculpture in front of the art center at 444 S Flood.
Vandals had painted swastikas over both eyes and the word JEWESS across the forehead. Red paint simulating blood poured from the forehead to sculpture’s base, where four more swastikas were painted.
Racist language was also spray-painted on the art center’s parking lot.
From the art center Bierman drove to the Democratic office, where she helped mobilize a group of volunteers to clean racist language and symbols from the glass and ground in front of the building.
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There she viewed swastikas, references to President Donald Trump, and "white supremacist rhetoric and racial epithets."
A note found tied to the Democratic office door said, "White men have built this civilization. White men have been and still are the backbone."
Bierman, who co-owns a "doggie day care" with City Councilwoman Sereta Wilson, said the graffiti at the office was scrubbed clean within two hours.
"We have power washers and scrubby brushes and bleach and Pine Sol, so we were able to mobilize pretty quickly, we just needed more hands," she said.
All three incidents are believed to be connected, according to Norman police spokeswoman Sarah Jensen
"We are, however, working closely with the Oklahoma City Police Department as all three incidents have similarities to recent incidents in their jurisdiction," Jensen said.
Imad Enchassi, senior imam at the Islamic Society Of Greater Oklahoma City, joined in the cleanup effort following the Oklahoma City incidents and was also in Norman on Wednesday.
"As an eyewitness it is definitely the same person," he said about the Oklahoma City and Norman incidents. "This is definitely the same signs that we saw last Thursday at the Democratic headquarters, the same hateful signs and hateful rhetoric and hateful adjectives and nouns that we saw at the Democratic headquarters in Oklahoma City."
Late Wednesday, Norman police released a photo of a silver car and a woman with long hair who appeared similar to a suspect wanted in relation to the Oklahoma City graffiti investigation.
Krystal Golding-Ross, chair of the Cleveland County Democratic Party, said she was stunned but not surprised by Wednesday's vandalism because of what happened at the Oklahoma Democratic headquarters in Oklahoma City.
"It makes me sad that this is the way that people decide to express their disagreement," she said. "I would hope that we're all adults and that we're capable of using speech and dialogue to have more constructive conversations."
"I have friends on both sides of the aisle, and we're able to have conversations and work through disagreements because we're human first. And that's the important part. What happened here is dehumanizing. They don't recognize us as being human."
In a statement, Norman Public Schools Superintendent Nick Migliorino condemned "these messages of hate, and the cowardly person or persons responsible for them, in the strongest possible terms."
"I was disgusted and heartbroken this morning to learn that racist and hateful graffiti was found at McKinley Elementary School," he said. "I share the McKinley community's shock at this vile act."
A school district spokeswoman said a walkway leading up to a side entrance was defaced but students did not see the graffiti and parents were notified. Workers cleaned the area Wednesday afternoon.
An art center employee called the sculpture, which was covered by mid-morning, "a piece of art work that’s very near and dear to the Firehouse."
The artist, identified as Richard McKown, is a former art center board member who was on site Wednesday trying to come up with a plan for cleaning the sculpture.
“You can’t power wash a plaster sculpture,” an employee said.
In a statement, Executive Director Douglas Shaw Elder said one of the art center's signature sculptures was defaced with "words and symbols of hate."
"Others in central Oklahoma have recently experienced the same horrible behavior. It is vandalism pure and simple, but does more to unite our community than divide it," Elder said.
"We are working with law enforcement to find the person or persons who are in so much pain that they have expressed it in this violent manner. They need to be stopped and to get help."
Gov. Kevin Stitt said he could not condemn strongly enough racist graffiti messages found across the metro area in the past week.
“I strongly condemn any kind of vandalism specifically attacking someone for race or political party,” Stitt told The Oklahoman. “It’s just uncalled for.”
Carmen Forman contributed to this article.