White supremacist graffiti spray-painted in City Park

Collin Lenton of the Iowa City Parks and Recreation Department scrubs white supremacist graffiti off a trail in City Park, Oct. 17, 2020. — Paul Brennan/Little Village

Visitors to City Park on Saturday morning may have encountered an unpleasant surprise on the pavement: white supremacist messages written with black spray paint in three different areas.

“We’ve had spray-painting before, but never messages like this,” Collin Lenton of the Iowa City Parks and Recreation Department said as he was scrubbing graffiti off one of the park’s trails.

In that graffiti, the phrase “we are every where” was followed by a swastika. Apparently in response to the upcoming election, it also said, “voting will not remove them.”

White supremacist graffiti on a trail in City Park, Oct. 17, 2020.

The same messages were spray-painted on a wall at the park’s Riverside Festival Stage, Lenton said. Graffiti in a parking area near the Normandy Drive entrance had a different message, one that was directed at Little Village.

“Hey Little Village, Should This Grafitti [sic] Breathe? WLM!

A message to Little Village spray painted in a parking area of City Park, Oct. 17, 2020. — Paul Brennan/Little Village

The message seems to be referring to a letter to the editor Little Village published on June 9. In that letter, a reader reflected on graffiti that had been spray-painted on buildings in downtown Iowa City during the first protests that followed the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.

As I watched someone cleaning the spray paint off of a building, I thought, “Let the graffiti breathe”; let the people of this town/campus take all of this in for a while. Let the poets, musicians, photographers and the artists capture this experience for us. Let this be a time and place for fundamental change to start.

I understand the need to clean up. However, I still find myself going to the words on the streets and buildings each day to feel, mourn, think and plan.

It’s a common tactic of white supremacists to try to create a false equivalency between themselves and people fighting against racism. The smarter ones, however, don’t try to create that false equivalency at the same time they are using explicitly Nazi imagery, like the swastika.

The graffiti in the park was reported to the Iowa City Police Department shortly after 8:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. Lenton said ICPD called Parks and Recreation to let him know about it around 10 a.m.

The graffiti on the Festival Stage was power-washed off the wall Saturday morning. As noon approached, Lenton was still working on removing the spray paint from the trail.

“It’ll take a couple of hours,” he said, before starting to scrub again.

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