Racial slur painted on couple’s Obama sign

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Shavonne Potts
ROCKWELL ó A Depot Street couple discovered Sunday that someone did more than just disagree with their choice for president.
Someone spray-painted a racial slur on the Barack Obama campaign sign in their front yard.
Sharon Osetek, who is black, and her husband, Alan Osetek, who is white, were leaving their Depot Street home Sunday morning when they discovered someone had spray-painted the word “n—–” on the Obama sign in front of their house.
The sign is blue with the names Obama and Biden printed in white. The sign is outlined in white and a lighter shade of blue.
Someone had sprayed the slur in white across the sign.
The couple were on their way to Obama’s campaign rally in Charlotte Sunday and were leaving their home around 7:45 a.m.
On their way out of the driveway, Sharon noticed the writing.
“It was shock,” she said. “Even though I knew I was in that type environment, it didn’t really bother me until yesterday.”
Alan was driving, and he didn’t immediately get a good look at the sign. But Sharon did.
“I could pretty much make it out at the time,” she said. “It was written on both sides.”
Alan was a bit skeptical at first. He told his wife he didn’t believe someone would actually write the “N word” on their sign.
But he soon saw it, too.
The couple decided to continue on to the rally, leaving the sign in place at the edge of their yard.
The Oseteks chose to leave the sign up to “show the ignorance that still goes on,” Sharon said.
“I was hoping I didn’t live in this type community,” she said.
When they arrived home, the sign was gone. As they approached their front porch, it was lying near the steps.
They thought whoever vandalized the sign had returned to do more damage.
“I felt more violated,” Alan said.
Alan and Sharon cautiously went inside their home, thinking they’d see a disheveled mess.
Nothing seemed out of place. Alan called police.
They learned that a neighbor had seen the sign and removed it from the couple’s lawn.
The neighbor, who is white, told the Oseteks he read the slur and thought it was offensive and degrading. So he took the sign down.
The Oseteks said Rockwell Police Officer Thomas Shaver indicated to them he didn’t think anyone in their community would do something like that.
That didn’t make the couple feel any better.
“We didn’t want it to be pushed down or downplayed because it happened to me,” Sharon said.
“We are concerned about what it said,” Alan said. “It lets you know there’s still racism in the South. It’s still happening, and it shouldn’t be in this year.”
Their main concern is someone will not stop at just writing a racial slur on their property.
“I hope it stops here,” Sharon said.
But Alan still wonders.
The Oseteks have lived in the neighborhood for a year. They have seen other political signs throughout Rockwell, they said, but believe theirs is the only Obama campaign sign.
Rockwell Police Chief Hugh Bost confirmed the incident but said his department had no suspects.
“No others were reported. It is an isolated incident,” he said.
The Oseteks said they last saw the sign ó untouched ó around 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
Bost said an officer noticed someone had defaced the sign when he drove through the neighborhood around 1:10 a.m. Sunday.
He said the officer noted the victim didn’t seem to want to do anything about it.
Sharon Osetek disagrees.
She said she was leaving a message to whoever wrote it and to others that this type of thing happens.
“It’s not something you want to wake up and see in 2008,” Sharon said.
The Police Department is treating the crime as property damage. The Oseteks say they don’t understand why it wouldn’t be classified as a hate crime.
Bost initially said he had not looked at the evidence but noted the officer’s report said the sign was painted with “some type racial slur.”
When asked if he could identify the slur, Bost said it was vague because of the white spray paint over the top of the blue sign.
“Looking at the sign I can’t tell. It’s not legible,” he later said.
Bost said investigators indicated to the Oseteks they weren’t sure how they could proceed with the case.
The biggest reason, he said, was because the sign was a political campaign sign and the Oseteks might not be the owners of the property. Ownership may lie instead with the Obama campaign.
The Oseteks say they contributed to the Obama campaign and so believed the sign belongs to them. Someone at the local Obama campaign office supported their view of the ownership, they said.
Rowan District Attorney Bill Kenerly said this particular crime could not specifically be called a hate crime.
“A hate crime is a category of crime,” he said.
Someone destroying the sign would be charged with damage to personal property.
But someone damaging the sign because of the victim’s race, religion or nationality increases the punishment from a class 2 misdemeanor to a class 1 misdemeanor. The element of racial hatred essentially acts as an aggravating factor when determining the severity level of punishment.
Authorities ask anyone with information about the incident to contact Salisbury-Rowan CrimeStoppers at 866-639-5245.