Fayetteville residents have rallied behind two people affected by racist and homophobic vandalism, both of whom are determined to send a message that the community’s love and acceptance outweighs any hateful elements.
Artist Olivia Trimble worked in July to cover the words “White Pride”on a building near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, only for her mural to be covered with more divisive graffiti messages in September. Two weeks later, Fayetteville City Councilman Kyle Smith awoke Oct. 4 to discover that the phrase “No Vote Queer” had been spray-painted across a photograph of his face on one of his campaign signs, which was posted near the intersection of Rupple Road and Mount Comfort Road.
Smith said that while it was shocking to see an anti-gay message written across his face, he thinks the response to the incident has been more representative of the true nature of Fayetteville residents. He said he has received hundreds of supportive messages from people saying they will not tolerate hate speech in Fayetteville. Fayetteville community members placed a pride flag and a sign reading “Love Not Hate” around the sign in support.
“This moment of shock has resulted in a week of real strong encouragement and I’ve appreciated that,” Smith said. “I want to thank everyone for it.”
At an Oct. 6 city council meeting, Smith and the council discussed an ordinance that would add a hate crime component to misdemeanors. The ordinance, sponsored by councilwoman Teresa Turk, would allow the city prosecutor to prosecute certain alleged crimes as hate crimes if they are seen as being motivated by bias or prejudice.
The council moved to table the discussion for two more weeks to discuss further logistics. Smith said he wholeheartedly supports the intent of the ordinance, but is concerned that it will have only a modest effect because of state restrictions. Arkansas is one of three U.S. states without a state-wide hate crime law.
Sgt. Anthony Murphy of the Fayetteville Police Department said vandalism reports this year are up 5% from 2019. There have been instances of vandalism to campaign signs leading up to previous elections as well, such as drawn-on mustaches, he said.
In an attempt to deter or catch vandalists, Murphy said the FPD Criminal Investigation Division reviews every vandalism report and uses crime mapping to identify areas with repeat occurrences. The investigators then relay this information to the Patrol Division, which directs its officers’ attention to areas experiencing high crime activity, he said.
After a vandal altered Trimble’s mural to read “Love Weakens Us” instead of “Love Unites Us,” FPD officers installed surveillance cameras next to it in an attempt to deter future defacement.
“I felt disgusted with the first white power incident,” Trimble said. “The deliberate vandalism of my mural almost felt like an assault. The word ‘Weakens’ had taken some time to paint, so the person had done it purposely to send a message. It was gross.”
The phrase “14 words” was also painted on the side of the building when Trimble’s mural was vandalized, a reference to the slogan “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,” commonly used as a rallying cry by white supremacists. Using donations from community members, Trimble purchased the materials to repaint the mural and paint the rest of the building.
Trimble founded an organization called Repaint Hate in 2016, with the goal of covering derogatory messages with vibrant murals and signs. Trimble has several other murals in the area with messages such as “Fayetteville is my Favorite Ville” and “Love Your Neighbor.”
Art is a powerful tool because it can draw people into conversations in a non-threatening way, Trimble said. It engages multiple senses to convey a message that can be a gateway to positive thoughts and actions, she said.
Trimble does not want to acknowledge the person who vandalized the building. She thinks the encouragement and donations she received from the community speak louder than she ever could.
Smith said that while he dislikes that seeds of discrimination still linger in the community, he prefers that these incidents be out in the open where city residents can tackle them head on.
Trimble and Smith said that the recent vandalism incidents show that the Fayetteville community still has some work to do to eliminate bias-based offenses from the city.
“I hope that the person that vandalized my sign pays attention to the response the community produced and that they realize that kind of attack is not welcome here,” Smith said. “Fayetteville is a community that is welcoming for everyone, including them, though we are not going to tolerate that behavior.”