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Niagara Falls
Monday, July 15, 2024
Town ‘not daunted’ by vandalism of rainbow crosswalk
George Webber woke up to find the crosswalk defaced for the second time in a week Saturday morning. JULIA SACCO

With a little soap, water and degreaser, it’s as if it was still brand new.

Town staff spent some time scrubbing the new rainbow crosswalk clean on Tuesday after it was vandalized twice last week, says the town chief administrator Marnie Cluckie.

After the new rainbow crosswalk was marked up by vandals twice in two days, the town’s leaders agree there’s still work to do.

Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa thinks as a society “we’re making improvements,” but that we’re “unfortunately not done yet.”

He suggested that the vandals represent a small minority in the community.

“There’s a large group of people out here that don’t think this is cool,” he said of the vandalism.

And Cluckie said she sees a bit of a “silver lining” in the response of residents who have been overwhelmingly positive in their feedback to the town.

“I think we probably should have had a camera on there right from the beginning,” said Richard Mell, a member of the town’s diversity and equity committee.

He pointed out it would be simple to install one on the side of the firehall near to the crosswalk.

Cluckie says a security camera was the first solution discussed by staff and they installed one Monday morning.

To date, she estimates that the town has spent about $20,000 on the crosswalk, a third of the estimates made by commenters on The Lake Report’s social media page.

“This is a symbol of inclusivity and to have someone damage it challenges the values that are important to the town,” Cluckie said.

After investigating the first incident, staff were reluctant to call the markings vandalism, she said.

“The second time, it was much darker. They were big dark circles and this was an incident that occurred in close proximity to the first,” she said.

A Niagara Regional Police official told The Lake Report the markings were caused by “unknown suspect(s)” who likely used a motorbike and an ATV to leave burnouts in the concrete.

“There is very limited information that has come forward from the public,” Const. Phil Gavin said. “We don’t have any actionable information.”

He urged people to check security camera footage between the morning of May 30 and the evening of June 1, and also let police know if they have any information about someone driving a dirt bike or ATV in the area in that period.

Coun. Erwin Wiens said he originally was “relatively agnostic” on the crosswalk when council first discussed it, but after seeing some of the vitriol posted online and the vandalism, he’s more supportive of the idea.

The backlash “is not acceptable. It’s not tolerable. It’s not inclusive and it’s not what the town stands for,” Wiens said.

And he said it’s “foolhardy” that people take issue with the cost of the crosswalk.

“We spend money for a lot of things in the (tax) levy that we think are important. Inclusivity is one of those things,” he said.

He added that the town also uses tax dollars to pay for flowers.

The town has yet to install four more Pride benches as well. The first of them was vandalized in November.

“I am concerned,” Wiens says. “But not daunted. We won’t be intimidated by vandals.”

Mell worries that the crosswalk, along with other symbols of inclusivity, will draw bigots out of the woodwork.

“I don’t think it’s a reason to not push forward,” he said.

After The Lake Report posted news of the vandalism to Facebook, Mell found a comment on it that summed up his feelings.

“Pride is important, because somewhere out there, there’s a confused teenager who still thinks maybe being dead is better than being gay. And that’s not OK,” he said.

Mell, who identifies as gay, says he’s one of the lucky ones because he doesn’t get much pushback and is very confident with who he is. But he worries about youth who may still be “figuring things out.”

Enzo De Divitiis, chair of Niagara Pride, agrees that Pride’s symbols draw the attention of bigots, but said the backlash is one of the reasons it’s important to push the message.

“Visual representation is very impactful and meaningful, which is exactly why they damage them,” he said.

People deface inclusive symbols to dampen the spirits of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, he said.

Neither Mell nor De Divitiis were surprised the crosswalk was marked up, but both were disappointed.

It’s not a new reaction. De Divitiis remembers 10 years ago, when Pride first flew its flag in Niagara Falls, it was stolen within a half-hour.

Jamie Knight, a lawyer who also sits on the town’s diversity committee, said it’s a small minority who would take the time to vandalize the crosswalk.

He said he wasn’t going to get “too excited” about the “wrongdoing” of a few bad actors.

And like Mell, he was also encouraged by the supportiveness of the Niagara-on-the-Lake community.

Since The Lake Report’s first story on the vandalism was posted to Facebook Friday it has received thousands of views and more than 600 comments, a mixture of supportive, hateful and misinformed viewpoints.

“Social media is a garden for negative messaging,” Knight said in an interview with The Lake Report.

“I guess they feel emboldened on social media to say things that they wouldn’t say directly to somebody in a normal conversation,” he added.

The hostility that does exist, Knight said, is probably caused more by misinformation and ignorance than by anything else.

George Webber, another committee member, said he doesn’t want to jump to conclusions and call the vandalism hate.

“Hatred is too powerful. It’s too powerful a word,” he said.

He wonders if it isn’t more a case of teenage delinquency, “just people being silly, people being dumb.”

De Divitiis thinks whether the act is one of hate or delinquency, “It’s still wrong.”

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