While heading home around 2 a.m. after a night out on the Corner, fourth-year University of Virginia student Jacob Moore and his friend stumbled upon bright spray-painted letters splattered across the sidewalk at 14th Street NW and John Street.
The letters they saw were N-I-G. They knew the rest.
Even so, the students felt their stomachs turn as the rest of the slur used to describe Black people written in yellow spray paint came into view under the low street lights.
“That’s when we thought ‘Okay, this isn’t anything that can be unintentional,” Moore, a fourth-year student who discovered the vandalism said. “There’s nothing ambiguous about this anymore. And so when we saw it, we were pretty taken aback.”
Moore snapped a photo of the scene on his phone and kept walking.
Less than a block up the street, the students found more of the familiar bright yellow spray paint going down the sidewalk. A different version of the same slur was written vertically down the sidewalk.
Moore took more photos and shared them in a group chat for an independent student organization that he belongs to. He alerted his peers to avoid involving the police, he says.
“I know that I could have reported it through ‘Just Report It’ with UVa, but in speaking with other people in my [organization], people told me, well, maybe that’s not the best route to go.”
Just Report It is the university’s online system for sexual and gender-based harassment and violence, hazing, bias and discrimination, threats or acts of violence and more.
Even though he opted not to involve the police, Moore admits that it confused him to be the one discovering the slur when 14th Street NW usually has a heavy university ambassador presence. UVa ambassadors patrol the university Grounds and surrounding areas often populated by students throughout the day and night, although they did not report this incident.
Charlottesville’s 14th Street is a hotspot for student housing. It’s lined with duplexes for rent and the John Street Apartments, located just four blocks from the popular Corner.
“As that area is within the concurrent jurisdiction boundary UVa shares with the City of Charlottesville, University Police Department officers responded to the scene and located the graffiti,” UVa officials said. “They immediately coordinated with the city to have the offensive language removed.”
An official at the UVa Police said surveillance cameras in the area did not catch the culprit in the act, so they are looking to the community for clues.
Operating within their joint jurisdiction agreement, the University and Charlottesville police departments are coordinating their individual investigations to identify a suspect and motive behind the vandalism.
The University Police Department is not investigating the offense as a hate crime at the moment because there are no federal statutes that exclusively categorize hate speech as a hate crime.
The official compared the vandalism to the a noose left draped around the statue of Homer on the Lawn that the department declared a hate crime right away last month. The Noose Hate Crime Act of 2011 states that hanging a noose in public can result in a fine or a prison sentence of up to two years long.
The Code of Virginia identifies a hate crime as a criminal act committed against a person or his property with the specific intent of instilling fear or intimidation in the individual against whom the act is perpetrated because of race, religion, gender, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, or ethnic or national origin.
The fall semester at UVa has been marked by suspected and actual hate crimes. Students are approaching midterms while threats of racially motivated violence persist.
“Black students have been demanding information regarding our safety as a basic dignity all semester,” UVa Student Council President Cecilia Cain wrote on Twitter. “[And UVa] responds [with not]not sending a community alert out about [“n-word’] being painted on 14th [Street and] no update on the noose/note [because] these are ‘not ongoing threats.’”
“It’s not usually like this,” Cain said in an interview. “This is the most anti-Black racism I’ve seen since I’ve been [at UVa]. It’s just a series of hate crimes.”
Students discovered the painting just one day before UVa’s annual Fall Fling, an open house dedicated to highlighting Black student experiences at the university. Accepted Black students and their families spent the day at UVa all day on Saturday.
“The University opposes racism and discrimination in all forms, and we are ready to offer support and resources to members of our community who may be struggling due to this or other incidents of racial bias,” a university spokesman said. “Anyone who has information about this incident should contact University Police right away.
The third shift commander of the Charlottesville Police Department coordinated sidewalk clean up with Public Works to clear the incident shortly after sunrise, University Police officials say.