Madison County

Berea rallies around interracial couple whose vehicles were painted with slurs

Damon Dunson and Melanie Stamper of Berea woke last week to find someone had painted racial slurs on their vehicles. "You just wouldn't imagine the emotions that run through you," she said.
Damon Dunson and Melanie Stamper of Berea woke last week to find someone had painted racial slurs on their vehicles. "You just wouldn't imagine the emotions that run through you," she said.

When Damon Dunson and Melanie Stamper of Berea woke up one morning last week, they said they couldn't believe that someone had used spray paint and markers to write racial slurs on their vehicles.

"I was angry, but at the same time I knew whoever did it was ignorant," said Dunson, who is black.

"They spelled the n-word three different ways," said Stamper, his girlfriend, who is white.

The message left on Stamper's Jeep, she said, told her to get out of the neighborhood.

But the couple said that in the aftermath of the incident, people in Berea have rallied around them, inviting them to a potluck to discuss discrimination and creating a fund to help pay to repair the vehicles.

"It was a pretty bad shock to many of us in the community," said Mae Suramek, who set up the fund at U.S. Bank. "Many people wanted to make it known as a community that this would not be tolerated."

Berea police Lt. Daniel Brewer said that he was investigating the July 7 incident as a bias crime and that there were "persons of interest" but no suspects.

"It's a cowardly, deplorable action," Mayor Steven Connelly said in an interview Wednesday. "Our community is and should rally around to support the couple and also to make it clear that this is not to be tolerated or considered acceptable."

Suramek said donors had given $500 by Tuesday toward the restoration of the cars. The fund will be closed this week when the couple have their cars repaired. Stamper said they have insurance on Dunson's car but must pay a $500 deductible. A body shop owner in Nicholasville has offered to donate his time and labor for Stamper's car, but Stamper must pay for the materials.

"People just got really excited and rallied around the one tangible thing they could do to show Damon and Melanie" that the bias "was not a common feeling in the community," said Suramek.

Stamper said the generosity has helped them deal with the fact that vandals targeted them in such an ugly way.

"I could not believe it," said Stamper. "I was mad. I was angry. I was hurt. You just wouldn't imagine the emotions that run through you."

The day after the incident, about 40 concerned citizens invited the couple to a potluck to talk about "how horrible this was" and "to come up with some concrete ways to combat this and publicly denounce this," said Suramek.

One way, said Suramek, will be to ask faith-based leaders such as ministers to pass along a message of tolerance to their congregations.

Another, she said, will be to ask the Berea City Council at its meeting Tuesday "to not look at it as an isolated incident" but to consider that there might be other issues of racism and discrimination.

Suramek said she and the group of concerned citizens will ask council members to create a human rights commission that would investigate all acts of discrimination.

The council has been debating whether to create a human rights commission and whether to extend the jurisdiction of a local human rights commission to include discrimination based on sexual orientation. That's the option Suramek said she supports.

Berea also has been considering an ordinance that would protect gay, lesbian and transgender people from discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations.

Meanwhile, Brewer, the police officer, said he is not aware of any other recently reported bias or hate crimes in Berea.

In Lexington, police reports obtained under the Open Records Act show that from Jan. 1, 2010, until mid-June, 19 possible hate crimes had been reported. In October, a man said a juvenile harassed him and cut his television cable line because of the man's sexual orientation. In August, a woman told police someone threatened to cause her bodily harm and yelled racial slurs at her.

And in February 2010, a woman said someone made repeated derogatory remarks about her religion and spat on her vehicle.

Statewide, there were 69 reported hate crimes in 2010, according to Kentucky State Police.

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