Someone scrawled “KILL NIGGERS” on the African Burial Ground National Monument in New York this week, not thirty-five feet from the headquarters of the Department of Homeland Security, ICE and the FBI.
The racist graffiti showed up shortly before noon, Thursday, on the burial ground of 15,000 free and enslaved Africans on a memorial sign.
The burial ground sits directly across from 26 Federal Plaza, down the block from the federal and state court houses, a stone’s throw from City Hall. The burial ground is on a short block of Duane street that is also home to the IRS, the NYPD and the US Court of International Trade. The street is closed to traffic by checkpoints and crash barriers and patrolled around the clock by federal police as well as the NYPD, the Parks Department and private guards.
A bare expanse of grass with just a few explanatory plaques, the African Burial Ground attracts passers-by, and Thursday was a glorious day.
Which is to say, someone, most likely in broad daylight beneath half a dozen surveillance cameras, felt confident enough to write “KILL NIGGERS” in capital letters on what has got to be one of the most highly policed blocks in the world.
Will we ever know? A picture of the graffiti was sent to the Public Advocate’s office and to a City Councillor. A call was made to the Hate Crimes Task Force, who transferred the caller to the NYPD, who have a precinct office a few feet away. The federal police are aware of the situation, I was told.
Still, as far as I know, only one photograph exists that is not in official hands, and no other press report has so far appeared. The marker was almost immediately cleaned off. A somber African American Parks employee did an assiduous job. It’s protocol, I was told by his boss. Protocol to make anti-black hate disappear?
This very week, researchers at the Brennan Center released a paper on the government’s approach to hate crimes. As many 250,000 take place every year, they report, but only a few dozen are ever prosecuted, even as the clamor and funds for fighting international terrorism grow by the hour. The discounting of domestic cases helps quiet concern they say, and that’s what it felt like to watch that graffiti go so fast.
Semi-instantly, the evidence was gone. The Feds have the tape. We saw something. We said something. What now?