Power Stretch Studios in Montclair, New Jersey, had suffered a fire in September, and its windows and door was boarded up. Two days after the Nov. 8 presidential election, someone wrote on the boards: “Lock her up,” a popular refrain against Clinton amongst Trump supporters during his campaign. A studio employee painted over it, but the vandals returned, writing ”America Has Spoken” with Trump’s face drawn next to it.
Gina Shaw, a friend of studio owner Hakika DuBose, organized a group of children to paint over the graffiti on Nov. 13 with a brightly-colored mural that said, “Make America Love Again.” Yet by the next morning, someone had defaced the colorful mural with a message that said, “Make America Great Again,” a reference to Trump’s campaign slogan.
Residents would paint over the graffiti and the vandals would strike again, and again. The police had sent patrols but no culprits were nabbed. So DuBose and Shaw’s husband, Evan Bergstrom, staked out the location Thursday night into Friday morning in Bergstrom’s blue Honda CR-V.
At 4:07 a.m., says DuBose, two people jogging in bright yellow reflective vests stopped at the mural and pulled out markers.
“I look closer and I say, ‘That’s an old man and an old woman,’ ” says DuBose.
The couple drew a face of Trump, “Leave Alone I Was Here First” and “Get Over It.” Bergstrom took photos while DuBose called the Montclair police.
The pair, meanwhile, began jogging from the scene. DuBose and Bergstrom followed, and directed police to a building where cops found the couple.
“They kept saying, ‘She drew over our stuff first ‘ and the cops said, ‘This is not your property, she’s the owner,'” DuBose says. “The woman looked into my eyes and said, ‘We’re still going to make America great again.’ ”
DuBose declined to file charges at that time, fearing the elderly couple would be taken away in handcuffs and jailed.
“When I looked at them I thought of my 80-year-old grandmother,” she says. “And I would feel bad if they had a heart attack in jail. I wanted to show compassion not to have them locked up.”
But later Friday, DuBose went to the Montclair Police Station and filed a complaint against the couple. “I felt like it was bullying and I had to stop it,” she says, “especially for the kids.”
Montclair police charged Anthony DiNapoli, 79, of Montclair, with prohibited acts of graffiti following an investigation “into multiple reported incidents of vandalism” at the storefront, according to a statement from the Montclair Police Department.
Calls to DiNapoli for comment were not returned. It’s not known why the woman was not charged, and a call to the Montclair Police Department was not returned.
In the weeks following Trump’s election victory, dozens of reports of racially charged incidents and graffiti from alleged Trump supporters have popped up around the country. Trump himself addressed the reported rise in crimes, telling his supporters to “stop it” during a post-election interview on 60 Minutes last Sunday.
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Still, that has not stopped the rise of incidents in normally liberal places like Montclair and nearby New York City. On Friday, a memorial park set up to honor the late Beastie Boys member Adam Yauch was vandalized with “Go Trump” graffiti and swastikas.
Still, the residents of Montclair didn’t expect to have to deal with an incident like this.
“I was really shocked,” says Shaw, whose three young children helped paint the mural. “We thought it would be teenagers or young guys. You’ve lived almost 80 years and this is what you do to a mural painted by children and this is how you react? I couldn’t believe it.”
Neither could some of the kids.
“It just kind of shocked me that a person of that age did it,” says Arabella Egan, 10, who helped paint the mural. “I thought they would know from their lifetime it’s never right to do that. I am glad they are hopefully not going to do any more damage.”
Her younger sister, Angelina, 8, agrees. “We took our time making it,” she says. “And we don’t want it to get destroyed again.”