More than 1,000 residents of Delano and surrounding areas joined in a candlelight gathering Sunday night to show their support of a local black family whose home was broken into and spray-painted with racial slurs a week earlier.
Their message: The community won’t tolerate hate, and the incident doesn’t reflect how most residents think or act in the city of 6,000 located on the metro area’s western edge.
“What we need to do is unify everybody together,” said Mayor Dale Graunke. “For all the people who are discriminated against, to say there’s help here for them and this is a safe place to be.”
The event inaugurated an anti-racism campaign dubbed Delano United.
On March 12, someone broke into and vandalized the house of Latanza Douglas, her husband and their three foster children. “Get out” was spray-painted on its siding, and the vandals also left a note that said “Next time it’s going to be fire.” Swastikas were drawn on interior and exterior walls, items were stolen or damaged and garbage was thrown around. Televisions, a new couch and photos were also spray-painted.
No arrests have been made in connection with the incident.
At the vigil, attendees lit candles as Graunke, faith leaders, a state representative and the Delano school district’s superintendent spoke and prayed in the street near City Hall. The event ended with a rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.”
Superintendent Matt Schoen said he lives eight houses down from the Douglas family and spent Wednesday walking through their damaged home and talking with Latanza Douglas. “Words can’t express the absolute shame I felt listening to her,” Shoen said.
He said he’s spoken with state Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius about finding resources to address racism with kids at school. Graunke said he has plans to print “Delano United” stickers and signs and continue the campaign.
The Rev. Matt Sipe of Delano United Methodist Church invited the community to the first meeting of a new task force that will address racism on April 25 at City Hall. “We recognize that we need to do a better job as a community,” Sipe said.
Many residents said they were stunned that a possible hate crime had occurred in their city, which has come together in the past after havoc caused by floods and a tornado.
Patti Loftus said she came from nearby Stockholm Township to “stand up against hatred and to show support for this family and other families of color who are perhaps quite fearful these days.”
Missy Larson, a parent whose daughter, Mollie, is a Korean adoptee, acknowledged that racism still exists in Delano.
Mollie Larson, a sophomore at Eden Prairie High School, said she left the Delano district this winter because she’s experienced prejudice, including kids mocking the shape of her eyes.
“Every year I’ve dealt with racism,” Mollie Larson said. “It’s just sickening and nasty.”
The incident at the Douglas home may be investigated as a federal hate crime. The Wright County Sheriff’s Office is also investigating but had made no arrests as of Sunday night.
Gov. Mark Dayton met with the family privately on Saturday to apologize on behalf of all Minnesotans, while Delano city leaders released a letter on the same day to say racism won’t be excused.
Despite the community outreach, the Douglas family — who didn’t attend the vigil — have left their multilevel house, located in the 200 block of 2nd Street SW., to live in a community where they feel more welcome. They had just arrived in December and described the house as their dream home.
Naresh Uppal, whose company, Advanced Homes, built the Douglases’ home, said he will buy back the property. He’s acting as spokesman for the family, which has requested privacy. The couple has three foster children ranging in age from 9 to 12; Uppal described them as “at risk.” Two of the children are black and one is white.
Uppal started a GoFundMe campaign for the family. He said the money raised at tinyurl.com/zmuuvtf “will be used to alleviate costs associated with moving, as the family no longer feels safe in their home” and to replace damaged items.
More than $33,000 had been pledged as of Sunday night, exceeding the fund’s $25,000 goal.