NEWBERRY, Fla. — Liz and Alecia Abel were asleep in their home early Friday morning when they received a visit from local authorities regarding hate speech graffiti-ed on their garage door.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Brett Rhodenizer said deputies patrolling the area first came across the vandalism at 3 A.M. on Friday, and places the timing of the incident between 9 P.M. Thursday and the time of its discovery.
When interviewed, Liz Abel purportedly told journalists that “(deputies) said, ‘Are you aware of what is on your house?’ and I said, ’Wait no, what’s going on with my house?’ (It) covers 75 percent of our door. It’s huge.” Rhodenizer said the incident is being investigated openly as a hate crime due to the derogatory nature of the message, which included a threat to “Move or Die’.
Florida law classifies a hate crime as being one which is motivated by prejudice for marginalized groups such as people of color, women, and the LGBT community.
Alecia Abel began to identify as female only three months ago. The couple also told deputies that this was not an isolated incident, with a sticky note having been placed on the garage door bearing a similar message earlier that same day. “It said, ‘move or die,’ too,” she said. “Alecia took it, tore it up and threw it away. We woke up to the same message written in spray paint.”
Rhodenizer commented, “Whatever (the vandal’s) motivations were, their actions were criminal. We look forward to working with neighbors to get the person identified.” In addition to interviewing neighbors and looking for potential witnesses, Alachua County Sheriff’s deputies requested video footage to search for any evidence in that way but ultimately came up empty-handed. No word as of yet about continued efforts to apprehend the perpetrator of this hate crime.
Community response has reportedly been outstanding. Neighbors have offered to buy the couple dinner, cover the obscenities on their garage door, and install video cameras to aid in the successful apprehension of any future offenders. The mayor of Newberry, Jordan Marlowe, has issued a formal apology to the couple and said that the message was not reflective of the feelings of others in Newberry.
“When I called them, first and foremost, I wanted to know that they were safe. I have respect for ASO but I wanted to be sure they were taking the threat seriously and everything that could be done to ensure their safety was being done,” Marlowe said. “I wanted to make sure they understood that there was no room in their elected representatives’ hearts for this kind of behavior and message. It’s disgusting and irreprehensible.”
Abel said that while she is appreciative of community outreach, she is doubtful that the vandal(s) will be caught due to a lack of video evidence. “For the most part, I feel people fear what they don’t know and they choose to lash out to make themselves feel better. (People) feel justified in their actions without recognizing their immorality.” Such crimes are becoming increasingly common in today’s political environment, with the number of hate crimes perpetrated having risen from 5,800 to 6,100 nationally in 2015-2016 alone.
Rhodenizer, echoing remarks on the events last August in Charlottesville, VA, said that Newberry was “full of good people”, and that he hoped that the wrongdoer would present himself to the proper authorities.