Donna Pfarr was the victim of a hate crime last weekend, but perhaps the most newsworthy part of her story is how she responded: “with love, with silence, with forgiveness.”
But first there was confusion. Pfarr awoke Sunday morning to the sound of Robbinsdale police at her apartment door. A neighbor had alerted cops to graffiti that had been spray-painted across the 38-year-old single mother’s front door that read, “Nigga Lover Bitch,” which left Pfarr scared, discouraged, and worried about both her safety and that of her 12-year-old daughter, Indigo, who was at a sleepover with a friend at the time.
“I think it’s somebody in the building, which breaks my heart,” said Pfarr, who moved to Hubbard Avenue N. in Robbinsdale from South Minneapolis five years ago. “I’ve always felt safe here. There’s been a considerable amount of turnover over the past couple years. There’s probably eight new tenants, and it’s always been a very culturally diverse building.
“It’s a security building. It happened somewhere between 2 and 5 in the morning. There’s no way anyone in my building would have buzzed anyone in at that time of night. It happened in the building, from somebody who actually lives here, and that saddens me.”
The Robbinsdale police asked Pfarr, who works as a medical secretary at the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center, if someone has an ax to grind with her.
“Literally I’m the oldest 38-year-old I know,” said Pfarr. “I go to work, I come home, and I raise my child. I don’t go out, I don’t party, I don’t drink. So the question the police asked was, ‘Who did you upset so much to make them do this?’ And I thought, ‘I don’t have enough of a life to upset someone.’ I work, and I come home, and I go to bed at 9 o’clock on a Friday. I’m so boring, it’s not even funny.
“I can’t think of anyone who would hate me enough to want to hurt my child. My daughter is biracial; her father lives in Duluth. I sat Indigo down and told her what happened, and the only words out of her mouth were, ‘Am I in danger?’ To hear that coming from your daughter is heartbreaking. As a single mother, I’ve worked very hard to build her a safe home, and a place to feel secure, and now I feel like this one violation has diminished everything that I’ve done to help make her feel safe.”
Unusual vandalism for Robbinsdale
The vandal also tagged Pfarr’s back door and mailbox, though the building has no security cameras to help police in their investigation. According to hate crime rate statistics, Robbinsdale is well below the Minnesota and national average.
“I’ve been heavily involved with Robbinsdale for 25 years and I’m starting my eighth year on the City Council and I’ve never had a complaint or concern regarding a hate crime,” said Robbinsdale’s Third Ward representative George Selman. “We just don’t hear a lot of that. We don’t have a lot of racial tension or anything like that.”
“I’ve been with the department for 21 years, and I can only recount a handful of incidents that qualify as what is technically known as – I know we use the term ‘hate crime’ – but as a ‘bias-motivated crime,’ ” said Robbinsdale chief of police Steve Smith. “Officially, I don’t have the numbers, but I can only recall 10 over 21 years.”
Which may be of little solace to Donna and Indigo, who have been staying with Donna’s brother since the incident, and are considering moving out of the building.
World view shaken
“I have an appointment to view a new apartment but as a single mom who lives paycheck to paycheck, coming up with a deposit and first month’s rent will be more than I’m capable of. Until I can get my finances together, Indigo and I will have to make the best of it,” said Pfarr, who admitted that her world view has been shaken by the incident.
“My daughter’s only crime was being born black. She’s biracial, but she’ll always be looked at as a black girl,” she said. “It makes me sad that people are still raised with hate and fear. I feel like I have to be more cautious and more aware of my environment and surroundings. I have to teach my daughter to stand up for herself, because this probably isn’t going to be the last time something like this happens. I have to be that example that we don’t just lay down and let people walk over us, but we stand up for who we are.”
For Pfarr, part of that example means telling as many people as she can about the incident, and turning the other cheek.
“I want the community to know about this hate crime. Not only was I affected, but the tenants who live here were also victims of this. My upstairs neighbors’ grandchildren are biracial, and we just cried in each other’s arms. People should know that this did happen, and that my daughter doesn’t feel safe, and I don’t know how I’ll make her feel safe again,” said Pfarr.
“But since we, as a community, were a victim to this horrible crime, together we will heal. My upstairs neighbor will be making sure Indigo gets on and off the bus safely when I’m at work, my nephew came and spent the night, my neighbors cried and embraced us with love. My blood family and friends have rallied behind us, so to answer your question about how I respond to this crime: with love, with silence, with forgiveness.”