Danielle Wong is no stranger to seeing racial slurs and symbols in her apartment building.
They’ve been scrawled across the walls at her John Street North building before. A swastika. “F--k Somalia.” The N-word.
Then on Friday, she came home to find a list of “violent, racist slurs against Asians” like c---k and g--k crudely written in marker outside her apartment. As someone who is working on a PhD that involves representations of Asian people in social media at McMaster University, it hit her hard.
“This is my home and my space. It’s right across from my door,” Wong told CBC Hamilton. “It was awful and frustrating.”
The walls are covered over now — sprayed over the same night. But that doesn’t mask the fact that there is a larger problem with racism both in her building — which has an ethnically diverse population — and the city that needs to be addressed to put a stop to this kind of abhorrent behaviour, Wong says. There have been several high profile hate crime investigations in the city in recent years, including the Hindu Samaj temple arson and a gas assault on a Hamilton cab driver.
“Race is in your face in this neighbourhood. You can’t ignore it,” she said. “But after so many years of work being done, language like this is still happening.”
'This is my home and my space. It’s right across from my door.' - Danielle Wong
No complaints in relation to the graffiti have been filed with Hamilton police. That’s a trend that officers are hoping to diminish, Det. Carmen Pietroniro told CBC Hamilton. “Are there hate crimes out there that aren’t being reported? Yes,” he said. “But we hope that number isn’t as high as it used to be.”
Only one hate crime at Wong's building — a dispute between neighbours — has been reported to police since 2008.
“This can be looked at two ways,” Pietroniro said. “Is it not taking place or just not being reported? It's hard to answer, but it can be a little of both.”
Last year, hate crime extremism unit investigator Sgt. Nancy Lantz said it's "statistically proven that hate crimes are one of the most underreported crimes" when speaking at a police services board meeting.
Not taken seriously
Wong says she believes the graffiti was targeted towards a specific person in the building who has chosen not to file a complaint or speak out on the charges. She stresses that she is not acting as his voice, but rather drawing attention to a larger issue.
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Wong says she has brought incidents of racist graffiti to the attention of building management in the past. Though it was cleaned up, she doesn’t feel like the issue itself was taken seriously.
Representatives from Greenwin Properties did not respond to interview requests from the CBC. When reached by phone at the building location, a woman who did not identify herself would only say, “That’s been dealt with,” when referring to the most recent graffiti outside Wong's door.
The Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion is extremely concerned about incidents like these popping up in Hamilton, says Evelyn Myrie, executive director. She’s also urging victims in any circumstances like this to come forward to police. “It’s not [classified] a hate crime if there’s no police,” she said.
But it can be difficult to be your own “agent of change,” Myrie says, so even if a person isn’t comfortable coming forward, groups like the HCCI will always stand behind them to ensure racism and its ramifications can’t be ignored.
“We all have our roles to play to remove racism — all Hamiltonians in all walks of life,” she said. Myrie says the HCCI is hoping to host a community conversation about race and racism in the north end of the city soon.
Hate crimes down, police report says
Visible minorities make up 14.3 per cent of Hamilton’s population, according to the Ontario Ministry of Finance’s 2011 National Household Survey. A report from the city's policing service shows Hamilton saw the number of reported hate crimes drop last year, but the document also raises concern about prejudice the city’s black community continues to endure. Nearly half of all hate-related incidents investigated by police in 2013 were directed at or included overtones that denigrated people of African descent.
Hamilton law enforcement officials investigated 11 “hate/bias-motivated crimes” last year, down from 16 in 2012.
Myrie says the people of Hamilton can’t be passive bystanders in the fight against racism if they truly want to be part of a solution.
“The people who would do this … they’re cowards,” she said.
“They just want to hurt people."