Stuart Lange woke up Saturday morning to find a message of hate written on his garage door in the Ravenswood Gardens neighborhood.
“The message was just kind of shocking. Celebrating Hitler’s SS isn’t something you want to see in the morning,” said Lange, 32, who had planned for a peaceful Saturday celebrating his wife’s birthday.
The words “Make Weimar Great Again” were spray-painted on his garage, referencing the German government under which Hitler rose to power. The message was flanked by the letters “SS,” referencing Hitler’s paramilitary group that carried out genocide.
Lange, a software developer, has no idea why anyone would pick his garage to use as a canvas for hate. He figures it was random, but disturbing all the same.
“I just had a gut reaction of disgust,” he said.
Police evidence technicians came and went, and Lange’s neighbors — some with cleaning supplies, others with paint — came together to get his garage door back to normal.
At the same time, word was beginning to spread that someone had spray-painted other hateful messages on nearby sidewalks, including one on the front walkway of Waters Elementary School in the 4500 block of North Campbell Avenue that read “Diversity is White Genocide.”
Within hours, folks from the neighborhood hatched a plan to replace the hate speech with messages of their own.
And so, on Sunday evening, more than 300 people gathered outside Waters Elementary to unleash dozens of kids armed with colorful chalk. They drew rainbows, peace signs, hearts and words like “hope” and “love.”
The purpose: “To take the neighborhood graffiti and create our own positive graffiti to show messages of peace and love and acceptance,” said Jason Rieger, 38, who helped organize the event.
“We’re making love messages on the sidewalk because we heard that people had wrote something bad on a garage,” said Raymond Knudson, 5, who agreed to chat between bouts of trying to climb his mother, Jennifer, like a tree. “So far I’ve drawn two hands, a giant heart and the word ‘love.’”
Another sidewalk message said, “You will not replace us.” The phrase was chanted by white supremacists at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month.
Michael Sullivan had his 5-year-old daughter Reeve on his shoulders. “Hate is a hard concept to get your head around,” he said of his efforts to explain the event to the girl.
With kids and sidewalks sufficiently covered in chalk, and after several speakers addressed the group on a megaphone, they held a “peace march” to a nearby park.
“The people who did this stuff in the neighborhood, they’re trying to sow division and hate,” said Lange, who’s lived in the neighborhood for six years and has a 3-year-old son. “It only brought the neighborhood closer together.”