Virginia PD Not So Sure Harassing Your Neighbor With Racist Noise Is A Crime
"Whenever we would step out of our house, the monkey noises would start," Jannique Martinez said. Yes, it's going to be one of those posts.
Martinez, a Navy veteran, lives in the Salem Lakes cul de sac in Virginia Beach, Virginia. For more than a year, she's endured loud music from her neighbor's house. The noise level is so great that it's literally shaken her home. She reported this to the cops, and the neighbor retaliated with a non-stop racist barrage. Racial slurs and the aforementioned monkey noises are set up to play whenever Martinez's family steps outside their home. This is not an ideal situation for her kids.
"My son is terrified of him. Terrified, terrified," Martinez said to the local news about her child. "The N-word situation… they came to me and said, 'Mom, what's that?' I didn't subject my kids to that. I didn't think they would ever have to learn what this means."
A Black person existing in America can never avoid that word.
Martinez said the minute she opens her front door, she's greeted by flashing lights and her “song" comes on. Other families in the cul de sac have their own specific songs that play whenever they're outside thanks to motion sensors their neighbor set up. He has at least eight home security cameras on his property and "we are constantly under surveillance," Martinez said. This asshole is a public nuisance.
So, why haven't the cops arrested him? The Virginia Beach Police Department claims it has no “authority to intervene." It's as if these guys forgot they were the police. A police spokesperson told WAVY News that they've responded to at least nine complaints about the neighbor's targeted harassment, but so far, they haven't filed any criminal charges against him.
Martinez said she's gone to the magistrate and to civil court. She's consulted a lawyer. Yet apparently blasting targeted racial slurs at your neighbor is no big thing. That is absurd if you recall how gentrifying neighborhoods often have an increased police presence to deal with the noise complaints from white residents.
But the police are powerless, they say! Virginia Beach PD tweeted last week: "As appalling and offensive as the neighbors' behaviors are, the city attorney and Virginia magistrates have separately determined that the actions reported thus far did not rise to a level that Virginia law defines as criminal behavior."
The police also told Martinez that her neighbor's harassment was “protected speech." This is strange, as Virginia has noise ordinances, which the neighbor is likely violating. The commonwealth also has hate crime laws regarding any illegal act directed against any persons or their property because of their race.
Dating back to the 19th century, Black people have faced resistance when moving into predominately white neighborhoods. Cross burnings, arson, and vandalism were overtly hostile messages, but there was often more passive expressions of contempt, such as offers to buy their homes. Of course, when all else failed, racial epithets were shouted. The point was to make the Black residents feel unwelcome so they'd leave voluntarily. According to author Stephen Grant Meyer, these tactics "may or may not have constituted crimes, depending on the particular state criminal code and the specific facts."
These same loopholes still exist — probably just an oversight — and made life miserable for the Martinez family. Both Jannique and her husband have served their country in the military, but Black veterans have long experienced mistreatment, often from those quickest to boast about their patriotism.
Martinez said after all that has happened she's considered putting her children in counseling. She knows they will have questions — about their neighbor's behavior, about hearing the racial slur and about seeing a crowd of people outside their home with signs. They hope those questions will be answered by a professional.
The animal sounds and banjo music had decreased somewhat in volume last week, and while the Virginia Pilot reported this as “peace at last," I'm not sure a stage-whispered “n-word" is necessarily peaceful. But it's a start. The Virginia Fair Housing Office is also looking into the complaints.
As for now, however, there's nothing stopping the neighbor from cranking up the volume again once the public backlash fades a little.
Last Friday evening, concerned neighbors protested the racist asshat. They held signs that read "love thy neighbor" and "love wins." This inspired Martinez's son to make his own sign that shared the same message as his mother's: "Spread Love, Not Hate."
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."