The Orange County Register, December 10, 2016

By SHANE NEWELL / STAFF WRITER

Community residents hold a press conference outside the entrance gate after someone tagged the words “n*gger” and “f*ggot” on a wall on Wednesday, December 9, 2016 in Coto de Caza. (Photo by Ken Steinhardt, Orange County Register/SCNG)

About 24 hours after racial and homophobic graffiti was discovered in Coto de Caza, a group of residents gathered outside the gated community Friday to voice their concerns about the vandalism, with some labeling it a “hate crime.”

Spray-painted in red on two stone walls in the community of more than 14,000, the vandalism was first seen Thursday morning, and photos were circulated among residents on Facebook. Residents said the two graffiti markings denigrating African Americans and LGBT communities were about 100 feet apart.

“My first reaction was I don’t want my kids to see this,” 15-year Coto resident Sonya Weaver-Johnson said at a press conference Friday afternoon.

Weaver-Johnson, 47, is president of Summit Gate Association, one of several associations within Coto de Caza. She expressed frustration with the delay between her calling the master association on Thursday and the graffiti being painted over about 24 hours later.

“We pay to live here – a lot of money to live here,” she said. “I’d like to see things addressed a little more quickly.”

Orange County Sheriff’s spokesman Officer Mark Stichter said the department was notified Friday about the graffiti. He said the department will open an investigation and try to determine whether the remarks were directed at particular residents in Coto de Caza.

Resident Jermaine Griggs, 33, said he was “appalled” when he saw the graffiti Thursday morning. Griggs said he viewed the vandalism as a “hate crime.”

“We don’t expect something like that to be around for more than an hour in daylight,” he said.

“When injustices like this happen, they’re symbolic of a greater problem. I think we have to do our part to shed light on it and to encourage the residents to not be silent.”

The Rev. Mark Whitlock, pastor of Christ Our Redeemer A.M.E. Church of Irvine, joined the Coto residents and said the graffiti should not be tolerated.

“This should be a place of peace, not a hostile environment,” he said.

Rusty Kennedy, chief executive director of OC Human Relations Commission, said his organization has labeled the graffiti a hate crime based on the evidence he received. He said his agency has logged 22 hate incidents and four hate crimes, including the Coto incident, in the past month.