A dogged detective breaks open a case of hateful anti-African immigrant graffiti in New Hampshire

Player utilities

This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: It's fair to say life for new arrivals is not easy, but imagine waking up one morning and finding the words "You are not welcome here. You are proven to be subhumans." Well, for two years, anonymous hate messages like that have appeared on the homes of African refugees in Concord, NH. The graffiti was usually written in black market and began appearing back in 2011. Local police had no leads though, but now a man has been arrested. Earlier, I spoke with John Duvall, the police chief of Concord, he says the detective in charge of the case found a clue in the graffiti--the letter B looked like a number six.

John Duvall: We knew that we had unique handwriting, that if we could find something similar that would be probably our best lead. And the investigator was looking through reports that we had taken in that southend neighborhood, going back a few years even before the date of these crimes, looking for anything that was similar. He was hitting dead ends until one report he was looking at had a copy of a gun permit. It was just any old gun permit, but what he noticed was that it was handwritten. And he accessed our files of gun permits and he started with the letter A and just methodically was just looking at writing; wasn't looking at names or addresses, just looking at letters. And when he got to this individual's gun permit, there was that letter B that looked like a number six. And then it was like a light came on. He said it was just an absolute match and then the investigation focus from that point forward.

Werman: So the African community that the suspect was allegedly targeting, I mean how shaken up were they by these writings, this graffiti?

Duvall: Them waking up to these crimes was significant because they, I mean they're human beings, they understand what it's like to be targeted. In fact, they fled their countries for a variety of reasons, but their own personal safety. In fact, one of the residents had communicated with a friend of the family that back in their country if they found writings on the wall, that was usually a precursor for being killed. So the messaging for them was that somebody is singling us out. There were children in each of these homes. They were afraid to leave their homes. They were even afraid of playing in their own backyards during the day, and it created a high level of anxiety and fear with the families.

Werman: I mean that narrative you tell of Africans waking up and finding writing on their walls, threatening writing, that would have happened especially among Rwandans, I imagine.

Duvall: Exactly. Their fears were steeped with experiences that many, if not all of us in this country can only imagine with horror. And here they are looking for a place to start over again, to establish their life and bring with them their culture, and they wake up to this type of messaging. And it was quite--I mean it rocked our community.

Werman: I mean it'll come as a surprise I think to a lot of our listeners that Concord, NH has so many Somalis and Rwandans in Congolese.

Duvall: Well, combined with other nationalities, we have about 1,500 in the city of Concord. We're a diverse community, but not as diverse as many, but the people in this community appreciate individual's rights and respecting others' dignity, and their culture and what makes them individuals. And I was proud to be the police chief. I also live in the city and people came out of the woodwork to express their dissatisfaction with this kind of behavior and their resolve to be active about speaking about, but in a positive way. So it could have turned divisive in many ways, but the community really pulled together, expressing positive messaging when talking about these things and how we need to learn more about each other instead of acting on ignorance and bringing presumptions to a conversation that aren't true.

Werman: John Duvall, police chief of Concord, NH, thanks so much.

Duvall: Thank you, it's my pleasure.