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Hate crime rocks S. Paris home
PARIS – Erica Russell and José Arroyo woke up last Thursday morning to racial slurs spray painted on the new white fence of their South Paris home. Arroyo and Russell are American by birth. Arroyo's heritage is Puerto Rican and Russell's is European.
Yet they live as “hermits” because they are afraid, afraid to venture out into the community and afraid to live their lives. They feel that racism is rampant in this area.
“I have never experienced so much hate and discontent before moving to this area,” said Russell.
“There are Hispanic children who are afraid to admit they are Hispanic,” said Arroyo.
They tell of a neighbor whose 18-month-old son, of Portuguese heritage, was called a [N-word] by another shopper in a local discount store. The shopper has allegedly been banned for life but the words cut deep, nevertheless.
Arroyo tells another shocking story of a night, a few months ago, when he took a walk, quite late, and as he walked by Stephens Memorial Hospitals, he said, “a police car pulled up. It was black and unmarked. The officer turned off his computer and radio, zipped his jacket over his nameplate and badge, got out of the car and said 'What the [expletive] is a Mexican doing on my streets? Take your [expletive] Mexican [expletive] home.'”
Norway Police Chief Robert Federico, choked when asked about this alleged incident ... "That's ridiculous! Do you know my last name?"
He continued, "We do not have an unmarked car like that, and I am unaware of any complaint. We have very specific procedures for a complaint against an officer, and there have been none." Federico said he could not believe that such a thing would happen in this area.
The couple says that what they are calling bigotry is common in this area and is becoming more overt.
The vandalism was discovered by Russell’s 71-year-old mother, who lives downstairs from the couple and is not well.
“She came running in,” said Russell, “after checking the mailbox, calling out to me ‘You need to see the fence, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry’”
Arroyo had been out late – 3 a.m. – the previous night checking to make sure his truck was locked, and at that time, there was nothing on the fence. Consequently, they assume the slurs were spray-painted sometime between 3 and 8 a.m. the following morning, when they were discovered. The fence was recently purchased with an inheritance from her grandmother, Russell said.
Paris Police Officer William Cook responded to their call.
“He was wonderful,” said Russell. “Very empathetic.”
Paris Police Chief David Verrier said Monday, that the department has no leads at this time. "It was windy the night before it was reported and the paint does appear to have been applied in wind," he noted. "One of the words was spelled wrong so that could mean either an uneducated person or a juvenile."
When asked if the charge would be a hate crime charge, Verrier responded "Absolutely!"
Russell has lived in South Paris for eight years. Arroyo, who is from Boston, has been living in South Paris for a year and a half but has lived in the area for 10 years.
“I know a lot of people,” said Arroyo, "and have never been discriminated against before." Yet, since moving to South Paris, it has happened to him twice is as many months.
Russell tells of a former boyfriend from quite a few years ago, a gentleman from England, who was black. A soldier stationed at Fort Bragg, he suffered such bigotry that he left the area.
Russell, a musician, is a former Miss Maine. She is a classically trained vocalist whose family tree goes all the way back to England’s King Edward. Her mother is European and a former advertising manager with the magazine glossy Sawmill & Wood Lot Management. Her father is a professor.
Arroyo grew up attending functions hosted by a number of Massachusetts dignitaries. His mother is a well-known caterer in Boston, and the family is friends with the Kennedy family amongst others, said Arroyo.
“We were invited to the inauguration,” said Arroyo, “and because we are friends with Senator Kerry and Senator Kennedy, we were invited to their inaugural balls.”
He has a large network of friends in Western Maine and enjoys fishing and hunting with them. He helps Russell take care of her mother. The couple also raise Shelties. Russell’s background is working with the mentally impaired.
Arroyo frequently volunteers for Bert Rugg at His Place teen ministry. He has raised money for the Turner Fire Department and tries to be an active volunteer in his community.
Arroyo and a friend, who sells South American clothing, spoke of opening a store here. “I’m afraid, José, there’s too much discrimination, is what he told me,” said Arroyo.
“There used to be a store here, called Butterflies and Ivy, that was mine,” continued Arroyo. “My ex and I ran it. During the Arts Festival, I would sell popcorn … some people would talk to you … some wouldn’t.”
“I think there needs to be awareness in this area,” explained Russell. “If the people in this area want it to be seen as an up-and-coming area there needs to be awareness of this type of thing, because it makes the area deteriorate.”
“We have to put a stop to this,” said Arroyo, “We really do … not for us, but for the children … who won’t tell anyone they’re Hispanic …. They’re afraid. They’re afraid.”
“We’re not bad people,” concluded Arroyo, “we’re really not … we don’t deserve this.”
HATE CRIME — This racial slur was spray-painted on the fence of a South Paris couple last Thursday. Although the perpetrator can't spell, its meaning is clear. A crime is elevated to hate crime status when it targets a specific group on the basis of characteristics such as race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.