Kylie Gamm was walking her dog Wednesday morning and had to stop to take a photo.
Instead of an Instagram-worthy pet pic, it was racist graffiti on the path she had traveled earlier that day.
“I went for a walk — I did a loop around 10 a.m. — and it wasn’t there when I first was walking,” she said. “It had to have been done in the morning, because when I came back it was there.”
A Stewartville native now living in Rochester, Gamm said the fact that someone would use white spray paint to put the N-word on public property didn’t surprise her, but it was upsetting. The letters were approximately a foot tall and the word spread across most of the path.
“I feel like things like this unfortunately happen,” she said, pointing to last year’s incident where bacon left at the door of the Masjid AbuBakr Al-Seddiq Islamic Center in downtown Rochester was investigated as a hate crime. Muslims cannot eat nor handle pork under their religious tenets.
It wasn’t the first time Gamm has found the word on the trail that extends north of the Federal Medical Center into Quarry Hill Park. She said a nearby blacked out piece of graffiti carried the same racial slur with the word “Die” in front of it.
W.C. Jordan, president of the NAACP Minnesota/Dakotas State Conference, said it’s important to bring such graffiti to the public’s attention.
“If people are doing this in Rochester, we have to raise awareness of it,” the Rochester resident said, noting incidents of hate are too often hidden, leading people to believe such racism doesn’t exist.
He pointed to doubts raised after the Rochester Police Department reported 13 hate crimes throughout 2017, up from zero the previous year. The department reported an average of 4.5 hate crimes in the decade dating back to 2007.
The 13 cases reported in 2017 — 10 based on race and three on religion — put Rochester behind only Minneapolis (31) and St. Paul (17) in the number of hate crimes in the state,, according to the FBI’s hate-crime statistics.
Numbers for 2018 have not yet been reported.
Racist graffiti on public property doesn’t appear to be officially reported as often as markings on private property, where a target is clearly identified.
In recent years, the letters “KKK” and swastikas have been painted on the homes of immigrants. Last year, the Kenyon Police Department received a report of a swastika spray painted on a group of mailboxes.
“There could be more incidents than we know,” Jordan said.
Mike Nigbur, Rochester’s park and forestry division head, said racist graffiti isn’t uncommon in the city’s parks and along trails.
“There is racist graffiti that happens throughout the year,” he said, noting general tagging, along with gang symbols, are more common.
“None of it is acceptable,” he said, noting park staff work to remove or cover the markings as soon as possible.
The approach used, he said, depends on the surface, time of year and weather conditions. Either way, it requires added staff time or an outside contractor. Both options cause added expense for the city.
Wednesday’s graffiti has been covered with black paint.
Reports made to the Parks and Recreation Department are shared with the Police Department, he said, noting police may have information about similar activity in areas surrounding the park.
Graffiti on park property and trails can be reported to the Parks and Recreation Department at 507-328-2525.