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A neighborhood rally helped to quiet racist noise blaring from a Virginia home

A Virginia Beach, Va., family, subjected to racist harassment, got some relief after neighbors rallied to support them.
John Quinn
EyeEm/Getty Images
A Virginia Beach, Va., family, subjected to racist harassment, got some relief after neighbors rallied to support them.

Jannique Martinez's home sits in a tidy cul-de-sac in Virginia Beach, Va., where she lives with her husband and kids and hosts the occasional bake sale. There's just one problem, and it's a loud one: a man who lives next door blares monkey sounds, banjo music and racist slurs at Martinez and her family — a situation that went on for months.

The police said there was nothing they could do to stop the offensive noise. But since the community held a rally to support Martinez on her block, the cacophony has gotten much quieter.

"We currently have some peace, and our neighbors do not have to endure the racial slurs directed at them!" said Nancy Eleftheratos, another of Martinez's neighbors on Jessamine Court, in a Facebook posting about the welcome change.

Martinez told The Virginian-Pilot that the noise got noticeably quieter on the same day her neighbors and other supporters gathered for a rally. The loud music and other sounds had started a few years ago, not long after the Martinez family moved in.

It got even louder during the summer, apparently in retaliation after Martinez called the police to complain about the noise.

The exasperated mom went public about a terrible situation

"My hateful neighbor plays this along with the monkey noises towards me and my family, EVERY SINGLE DAY!!" Martinez, who is Black, said in late September, as she posted a video of the scene on Facebook.

"There are no laws in the commonwealth that protect us from it," she said, adding, "This affects my kids mentally and emotionally."

Her seven-year-old son was terrified, she told local TV news station WAVY. Her kids started asking her about the n-word, she said.

The video — and more especially, the cacophony of hateful noise — brought a wave of support for Martinez, including offers of legal aid to help her pursue a civil case against the man who lives next door.

Eleftheratos praised the community for its vocal support of Martinez, saying the families who live on the cul-de-sac in the Salem Lakes neighborhood just want peace and quiet, and to let their kids run around and play. As she celebrated that the racist noise has gotten quieter, she also noted that it hasn't gone away entirely.

"It ain't over yet! But it's a start!" she said.

While the most egregious sounds were aimed at Martinez, she told WAVY that her family wasn't the only one targeted. The troublesome house has numerous surveillance cameras pointed at its neighbors, she said.

"The minute I open my front door, his lights blink, or 'my music' or 'my song' comes on," she said. Referring to another neighbor's house, she added, "Soon as they get to the middle of their driveway, it blinks — they've got a specific song [also]."

The police said there was nothing they could do

After Martinez's post drew national attention, the local police department issued a statement saying that it wants to help her family resolve what it calls a "most unpleasant situation."

Despite acknowledging months' worth of complaints, the police said they're limited in what they can do, because under state law, the neighbor's harassing behavior doesn't amount to a crime.

"The city attorney and Virginia magistrates have separately determined that the actions reported thus far did not rise to a level that Virginia law defines as criminal behavior," the Virginia Beach Police Department said last week. "This means the VBPD has had no authority to intervene and warrants were not supported."

That statement prompted many concerned citizens to cite possible laws that could help Martinez, from noise ordinances and limits on abusive language directed at another person to hate-crime legislation.

"Hate has no place in Virginia Beach and this will not stand," Virginia Beach City Council Member Michael Berlucchi said.

The police said they will monitor the situation closely and investigate any further complaints.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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