Two young girls from New Jersey got their first exposure to overt racism this week when they returned from a morning walk into downtown Vineyard Haven and found a racial slur spray-painted in letters two feet tall in the street by the house their family was renting at Clough Lane and Pine street.

Tisbury police are investigating the vandalism that happened Wednesday — possibly in broad daylight — and police chief John McCarthy is looking into whether the incident should be considered a hate crime.

Meanwhile, the mother of the two girls is both sad and shocked that her children, eight and 12 years old, encountered such racism on Martha’s Vineyard.

“They were wondering why someone would do that,” said Racquel Hall of Mount Laurel, N.J. “Particularly in this environment, there’s this notion that people are more interactive across racial and cultural differences. Something like that you would be surprised to encounter in a place where the children feel really safe.”

According to Chief McCarthy, the graffiti was about seven feet across and a couple of feet high, and it likely came from a spray can. The paint color was silvery white, and once police had taken photographs of the scene, a public works crew quickly removed the paint from Clough Lane.
The chief said the department has no leads but would welcome information about any suspicious activity in the neighborhood behind St.

Augustine’s Church on Tuesday night or early Wedneday morning up to about 9:15 a.m. The department telephone number is 696-4240.

According to Mrs. Hall, when her daughters left for their walk with their grandmother at about 8:30 a.m., none of them noticed the graffiti. It was only on their return to Clough Lane that they saw the writing, leaving them convinced that someone had painted the racial slur in that short period while they were downtown.

Mrs. Hall and her family departed the Island yesterday, and she said their leaving was not prompted by the racially motivated vandalism. Yesterday was just the end of their two weeks of vacation.

Chief McCarthy said police have interviewed the neighbors looking for clues. The last incident of such racially-motivated vandalism happened three years ago at the Tisbury School, when swastikas were spray-painted on the building. Three 13-year-olds were identified as the vandals.
In this week’s case, the chief said, he is looking into the official definitions of a hate crime. Depending on the details that may arise from the criminal investigation, the chief said this act of vandalism could be elevated to that more serious level.

For the Halls, a summer holiday on the Island represents a time when their family can interact with other African Americans. In their town in New Jersey, she said, they are much more accustomed to being among the few African Americans living in the community.

“Little things have happened there, but not anything to this extent,” she said. “It’s unfortuante for my younger daughter. She is the most sensitive one, but these things have to be discussed. Unfortunately it was on a vacation, but it’s just a reality.”

Martha Jones, a friend of Mrs. Hall who is summering in Vineyard Haven, was on the telephone with Mrs. Hall when the daughters returned from their walk. Ms. Jones quickly went over to see the vandalism.

“Let me go see for myself. It was big and right in the middle of the road. It’s just a reaffirmation that it’s not Shangri-La here. This is the real world,” said Ms. Jones, who lives in New York city. She encouraged the younger daughter, Marielle, to write down her feelings about finding the word spray-painted in the street.