One man late Thursday night sprayed three hateful words on the garage door of a northwest Santa Rosa family.
Sunday afternoon, a clean-up crew of more than 50 people appalled by the display of racism, showed up to wipe away the graffiti and show Fijian immigrants Di and Bentley Chong Wan that one guy with a spray can doesn’t speak for them.
Residents of the older subdivision near Coffey Park streamed into the cul-de-sac where the Wans have rented a home for the last year bearing covered dishes, small bouquets of flowers and supportive signs reading, “Only Love Prevails Here” and “Keep Hate out of Santa Rosa.”
“I am so overwhelmed by the support of my neighbors,” said Di Chong Wan, surveying the turnout from a camp chair on the sidewalk. “Something good always comes out of small bad things. Love overrides everything.”
Helen Tucker, who lives a few streets over, had walked past Di Wan in Coffey Park Saturday and approached her after noticing she’d been crying.
“If it happens somewhere else it’s hard to do anything about it. But I can do this and it feels really good,” said Tucker, who has lived in the neighborhood for 25 years. For the potluck she looked up Fijian recipes and made a traditional banana cake.
Di Wan’s husband Bentley, 50, said it hit him “like a brick wall” when he came home Friday morning after working all night — both he and his wife are in-home caregivers — to discover someone had scrawled “I hate n.....s”’ in large black letters on his garage door.
“It shocked us. We’ve seen stories like this in the news and now it’s happening to us,” he said. “I didn’t know what I should do, or if I should do anything at all. I brushed it off a little bit. But finally it dawned on me that this is unacceptable.”
One of the Wans’ five sons who was home at the time, spotted the hate tag and called Santa Rosa Police.
The Wans have a small security camera outside their home and captured footage of the perpetrator, which they gave to police. In the meantime, Bentley Wan decided to take matters into his own hands. He said he determined that the vandal was a 28-year-old man who had been visiting the son of a neighbor.
The Wans tracked down the man, who does not live in the neighborhood, and invited him to come over and talk. He showed up Saturday night, Bentley Wan said, and spent about 90 minutes talking with his family. He told them he lashed out after he found his car, parked near the Wan home, vandalized. He wound up apologizing.
The Wans declined to identify the man.
“I was trying to understand why he did it,” said Bentley Wan, who was a teacher of math and economics in Fiji. “Was he coerced? What did he mean? I concluded he was just a young, drunken man who was mad and wanted to vent his anger and frustration. I don’t know why he chose the word he did.”
Santa Rosa police said the incident is under investigation. They were unaware the Wans had identified and met with the perpetrator.
Sgt. Marcus Sprague, who supervises the property crimes unit, said Sunday the recording submitted by the Wans “lacked sufficient quality to make a positive identification.” He said the case remains under investigation and detectives today will interview potential witnesses and review the tape “and see if there is anything else we can do.”