B.C. family shocked and scared after swastika painted on their house
The town's mayor, who is Black, says she's also been the target of online racial harrassment
Ramesh Lekhi was doing paperwork in the living room of his Summerland, B.C., home when the sound of glass smashing brought him out of his chair.
At first he thought it might be a picture frame falling off a wall. However Lekhi soon discovered someone had smashed two windows in the home he and his wife Kiran have lived in since the couple built it in 1990 on a quiet street in front of their Okanagan cherry orchard.
Lekhi called the RCMP and when officers arrived he learned the vandalism was more than just smashed windows — someone had drawn a swastika along with obscene and vulgar graffiti in red spray paint on the outside of this home.
"When the RCMP came they showed us all these [graffiti] signs and they said, 'Look what they did to [your house].' And that was really shocking," he said.
The RCMP Hate Crime Team is investigating the incident along with more swastikas that were painted overnight on a bandstand in the town's Memorial Park.
The vandalism and hateful graffiti have shaken the Lekhis and left them wondering who, in the community they have lived in for more than three decades, would wish to terrorize them late at night.
"It is really shocking. It's never happened before," Ramesh said. "I've lived in Canada for 42 years and it's never happened — any racism or anything like that. I've never had to deal with anything like that."
The Lekhis' three adult children, who all live in Vancouver, woke up at 4:30 a.m. Monday to drive to the Okanagan to be with their parents.
Son Abhishek and daughter Shivali saw the dark red graffiti covering the side of the home they grew up in as they pulled into the driveway.
"My sister pretty much burst into tears and I had to take her from the car and bring her up to the house and tell her, 'It's OK. At least our parents are safe,'" Abhishek said.
Seeing his home targeted with the hateful symbol and vulgarity has him wondering if he and his family were ever welcome in the Okanagan community he grew up in.
"It slaps you in the face and tells you that your skin is different and that you may not belong," he said.
Ramesh said he hasn't made any enemies in Summerland and can't think of anyone who would wish his family harm.
RCMP investigators believe the swastika and vulgar graffiti on the Lekhis' home and the similar graffiti painted overnight in Memorial Park are connected, according to a spokesperson.
"This kind of hate-motivated vandalism is not often seen in the close knit community of Summerland," said Sgt. David Preston in a written statement.
"We understand this kind of vandalism can be disturbing to many and the Summerland RCMP is taking this very seriously."
Not an isolated incident, mayor says
District of Summerland Mayor Toni Boot and some councillors came to visit the Lekhi family on Tuesday morning to offer their support.
Boot, the town's first Black mayor, said she has experienced racism in the predominately white agricultural community as early as when she was in preschool and still now that she is in public life.
Last month someone sent an "anti-Black" video to her district email account just days ahead of a Black Lives Matter rally in the region, she said.
Boot said although it was not shocking to learn a family would be targeted with hateful graffiti, she is angered and disappointed by it.
"We have such beautiful, little town. At the same time though, there is ugliness underlying in our town," Boot said.
"To see this happening to a family that has been here over 30 years and has contributed so much to our community, it's really disappointing."
In an interview on CBC's Daybreak South Wednesday, Boot said the graffiti on the bandstand, which has since been covered over, appeared to have been done with a black marker.
Boot said these are not the only incidents that concern her. She said within the past two weeks, a confederate flag was found hanging in downtown Summerland.
"It's not necessarily illegal but definitely a display of hate," she said.
Boot said city council is convening a special meeting Monday, and racism and how to engage the community in conversations about these incidents are on the agenda.
With files from Daybreak South