Long Beach police are investigating after a Latino man said he found the word “Illegal” spray-painted in large dark letters on this side of his van this weekend. A second car and a nearby church sign were similarly vandalized, according to residents.
Joe Solis said a neighbor in his Belmont Heights community alerted him to the spray paint Sunday morning. Solis thinks someone must have scrawled the message on his bright yellow Volkswagen bus while it was parked in front of his house Saturday night.
Solis, who is Mexican and Jewish, said the racial implication of the spray-painted message didn’t hit him right away.
His first thought was to double check that his van was parked legally.
“I didn’t understand it at first because it said ‘illegal’ on it and I couldn’t put two and two together,” said Solis, who explained that his family has been born and raised in the United States for six generations.
It wasn’t until his mother-in-law said she thought the graffiti was a hate crime that Solis realized someone could be targeting him for his Mexican heritage.
“I never really felt like that before, like I don’t belong,” Solis said.
Police haven’t determined a motive for the vandalism but said it’s possible the crime was “bias motivated.”
OTHER SIMILAR INCIDENTS
There are so far no suspects, and nobody has reported witnessing what happened, according to Long Beach police spokeswoman Marlene Arrona.
A banner about two blocks from Solis’ home was also spray-painted with the word “illegal” around the same time, according to Arrona.
A nearby car was also hit. Travis Heit said he woke up Sunday morning and found his Volkswagen Beetle with the word “Illegal” sprayed on the side. Heit is not Latino. He described himself as white.
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Long Beach resident Michael Zarghami said he was surprised by the graffiti. He and a roommate were driving past Solis’ house Tuesday, when they saw the vandalized van and felt compelled to stop and find out what had happened.
“I think she and I were just kind of floored at what we saw,” Zarghami said.
TENSE POLITICAL CLIMATE
The two didn’t expect to see a message apparently targeting someone for his race in a city as diverse as Long Beach, he said.
Zarghami and Solis both pointed to the tense political climate as a possible motivating factor for the graffiti.
But Solis said his community has rallied around him since the graffiti appeared.
When he took his van to a shop to have the word removed, the service was performed for free, Solis said.
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He also got a note on his home’s front door saying “We love you in our neighborhood.”
Others have stopped by to introduce themselves and say they’re sorry this happened to him.
“The neighbors I used to wave to, I know their names. I’m shaking their hands. We’re talking,” Solis said. “It’s good to see there’s really good people in this world.”