Friday morning was the quietest Jannique Martinez’s neighborhood had been in years.
She could hardly hear the “racist stuff” that had been blaring next door in the 2000 block of Jessamine Court. A reporter with The Virginian-Pilot had visited two days before to record the noise for a story that aired her frustrations, and now, city leaders are denouncing her neighbor’s actions and a state housing agency tasked with tamping down on intimidation and harassment is looking into it.
“It may be legal, but it’s not right,” Council Member Michael Berlucchi said during a regular meeting Tuesday night. “We cannot let that stand in Virginia Beach.”
She noticed the animal sounds and banjo music were softer than usual when she walked her kids to their school bus stop Sept. 24. Although the sounds are still playing, the difference has given Martinez and her family some peace.
The loud music started in 2017 — roughly one year after the family of five moved into a cul de sac in the Salem Lakes neighborhood.
After Martinez called Virginia Beach police about a noise complaint in July, she said her neighbor started playing the sound of monkeys screeching from a speaker in the window of the house’s far left side.
On Sept. 16, she could hear the N-word coming from the same room next door closest to Martinez’s house. It frustrated Martinez, who said she couldn’t enjoy something as simple as sleeping with the windows open. Some days, she didn’t want to leave her house because she didn’t want to hear the sounds.
Her 7-year-old son feared the man next door. He would often ask his mother what the N-word meant.
He was 2 when they moved into their Salem Lakes home. Martinez laments that her son has had to grow up experiencing their neighbor’s behavior for most of his life.
The mother of three sought help from police, the Virginia Beach Magistrate Office and a civil judge, who all said there was nothing they could do because the neighbor didn’t break any laws or threaten Martinez and her family.
Virginia Beach police issued a statement Wednesday calling the neighbor’s behavior “appalling and offensive.” But despite multiple nuisance and loud music complaints, the department “has had no authority to intervene and warrants were not supported.” The statement also said officials will monitor and help as long as it’s “within the limits of the law.”
In the same statement, police said the magistrate office and city attorney concluded the neighbor’s actions don’t “rise to a level that Virginia law defines as criminal behavior.” The city attorney’s office pointed The Pilot to a city ordinance which states officials cannot intervene if doing so might violate their First Amendment rights, but its lawyers but did not answer when asked whether the law prevents the city from taking action in Martinez’s case.
“At the end of the day, the law is the law,” Martinez said during an interview Wednesday at her home. “What more can (the city) do than they’ve already been doing — unless something changes, and unless the law changes.”
Nancy Eleftheratos, a homeowner on Jessamine Court, said she expected the department’s response after a police officer came to talk with Martinez and herself last week. The officer told both women it was “protected speech,” Eleftheratos said.
But since The Pilot’s story was published Monday, the Virginia Fair Housing Office reached out to the Martinez family through a reporter and it is now looking into their complaints. The office investigates alleged cases of “coercion, intimidation, threats or interference with any person in the exercise or enjoyment of their fair housing rights.”
Neither Martinez nor Eleftheratos expected an outpour of support from hundreds of people locally and across the nation.
When a crowd gathered outside their neighbor’s home Sept. 24 to denounce the behavior, Martinez said her son showed courage. He told his mother he wanted to make his own sign like the ones he saw community members holding.
His inspiration came from the sign his mother made. As he sat on the living room’s wooden floor with colorful stencils scattered in front of him, he traced the letters to spell out the chant that filled his cul de sac:
“Spread Love, Not Hate.”
Sierra Jenkins, 229-462-8896, email@example.com