Obliterating messages of hate

Volunteers paint over hateful graffiti taking over Art Wall Park

In a submitted photo at left, Ron Leske was one of the first to offer up a roller and paint to cover up the hate messages near the Art Wall park. He started at the tunnel near the North 7th Street bridge. (The “n” word in front of him has been digitally pixilated.)

NEW ULM — Over the last two days, a group of equality-minded individuals has been hard at work removing symbols and words of hate from the Art Wall park and the surrounding area.

The Art Wall park, located at 221 6th N. Street off the New Ulm bike trail, is a place where artists are encouraged to spray paint graffiti art. The works of art are constantly changing at the park with no status quo, but in the last month, citizens have noticed an uptick in racist and hate-filled graffiti.

Emmie Turner was walking the bike path past the Art Wall Part, Wednesday when she noticed extreme examples painted on the bike path and tunnel near the 7th N. bridge.

The first thing that caught her attention was a crude painting of Hitler with a swastika body. Further down the path close to the tunnel, she spotted more swastikas and use of the N-word.

As an African American woman, Turner has witnessed hate speech before, but the abundance of it in one location caused her to pause.

“My first thought was, ‘Really? We’re doing that?'” she said. Once Turner began looking closer she saw even more examples of hate symbols on the Art Wall. She began documenting the hateful images and posting them to Facebook. Shortly after posting the images several of her friends — equally horrified — came to the Art Wall with paint and removed many of the hateful images the same evening.

Krystal Haas was one of the painters. She brought her 6-year-old son Joey along. After explaining why they were painting, Joey was eager to help.

Ron Leske also volunteered his time, bringing a roller and paint he had available to clear the worst graffiti from the bridge a tunnel area. The group managed to whitewash a section of the trail tunnel and planned to come back Thursday to finish the rest of it. However, Thursday morning the entire tunnel had already been whitewashed by the city.

Turner believes it is in the city’s best interest to remove hate speech quickly because even though only a few people were responsible, it does leave a bad image for the community.

Turner first came to Brown County at age 5. She’s lived in the area for 25 years as loves the community and for the most part, has felt accepted. She is even a fan of the Art Wall.

“I think it is a great idea for a park,” she said. “There was even some beautiful art earlier this summer but it was lost to images of hate.”

Turner is concerned that if people new to the community saw some of the negative images, it could turn them off. Also, the Art Wall park is adjacent to the bicycle path. Many families travel it and she does not want children exposed to hateful language.

With the tunnel painted, the group dedicated Thursday to paint positive messages on the Art Wall over top of the hateful messages.

“It is great that there has been an outpouring of support,” Turner said. “If more is loud about equality and acceptance, that is putting our best foot forward.”

For those responsible for painting racist words and images, Turner said she would pray for them and hope they learn.

Following this recent effort to remove hate speech from the park, the group Equality from New Ulm has been in talks to adopt the park and actively monitor graffiti for hate speech. The Equality from the New Ulm Facebook page includes a signup list for people willing to periodically check the park to monitor for hate symbols.


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