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Racist graffiti found in Saranac Lake

Police are investigating

SARANAC LAKE — Racist graffiti found on a railroad trestle bridge in town Friday has been covered up by a village resident and village police are investigating the source of the spray-paint slurs.

The bridge, which spans the Saranac River between Pine Street and Woodruff Street had been defaced with slurs, expletives and the racist phrase, “Go back to Africa.”

Aziz Rashid, who saw and reported the graffiti, said he was surprised, sad and angry when he came across it while walking the trestle bridge with his brother around noon on Friday. He said he walks that area regularly and had not previously seen the writing.

“I was pretty angry. There’s a lot of kids I love that walk that bridge,” Rashid said.

He said he was preparing to go paint over the slurs, but thought if someone saw him it would look like he was the one doing it, so he called the police.

Sgt. Leigh Wenske with the Saranac Lake Police Department said officers canvassed local businesses that sell spray paint. If discovered, he said, the perpetrator or perpetrators may be charged with making graffiti, a misdemeanor.

Wenske said if it is determined the graffiti was targeted toward an individual, the perpetrator(s) could also be charged with a hate crime. “Hate crime” in New York refers to a slew of different charges with different penalties.

Rashid said he had asked the police to paint over it, but they could not because it is not village property. The bridge is state Department of Transportation property, and Wenske said he was going to get in touch with the DOT on Monday morning.

“But some of the people were very upset and concerned about it — which I agree 100% with — so I just told them to neatly cover it up, which they did,” Wenske said.

Rashid said he painted over the graffiti with black paint. He also cut out a strip of house wrap the snowmobile club was using to preserve their plywood cover over the railroad ties, which was painted with slurs on it targeting the Black Lives Matter movement. He said it is currently sitting in his dumpster.

“I get it,” Rashid said of the police’s unwillingness to get rid of the graffiti themselves. “They’ve got red tape and rules to follow. I don’t.”

Wenske said painting over of the slurs would not constitute another charge.

“They were not happy with the language, which I do not blame them. They took it upon themselves to cover it up,” Wenske said. “It’s inappropriate at this time, or anytime.”

Wenske said there is lots of graffiti seen around town, and around that bridge, but that it is almost never hateful and, from what he has seen, never racist.

Rashid said he does not usually have a positive opinion of the police, but he felt the SLPD handled the situation quickly. He expressed his thanks on Facebook and said Wenske told him, “There’s no room for this in the world, and there never was.”

“The cop said that! Never in my life thought a cop would take the words outta my mouth,” Rashid wrote on Facebook.

Rashid said he believes people who say and write racist things are in the minority, and he hopes they can change.

Rashid added that his feelings toward the defacers are complicated.

“I kind of want to choke them, and I kind of want to hug them,” Rashid said.

He said he does not know how the person or people who wrote it were raised, and if kids wrote the message, they may not think about how it hurts people living around them.

“I want them to learn to love, make room in their hearts,” Rashid said.

(Correction: An earlier version of this misspelled Sgt. Leigh Wenske’s first name. The Enterprise regrets the error.)

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