NAACP, family members concerned after racist post

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Human Rights Ordinance staff in Grand Rapids is investigating a racially charged post that surfaced on Craigslist.

In the May 20 post, the author posted a map and asked about a group of people hanging outside of a home in Alger Heights. The post was riddled with racial slurs including the n-word. It alleged the homeowner was dealing drugs and that neighbors should beware of the breaks in that will follow. 

A Craigslist post referring to a group of people hanging out around an Alger Heights home. (Note: The photo has been altered to blur profanity.)

The family who believes this post was targeting them says these claims are emphatically false. They say they were mourning the loss of their daughter 17-year-old Danajiea Gardener at the time.

“It’s really something that no one ever prepares for,” said Tatiana Matthews, mother of the 17-year-old. “At night, it gets hard. In the morning, it’s hard when I wake up, but my exterior is just an exterior. My interior is just totally demolished.”

Gardener was killed in a car crash on May 14 near Dallas Avenue and Watkins Street on the southeast side of Grand Rapids. Her family hosted her funeral days later. They say after coming home and getting lots of visits from friends and family, the post surfaced on Craigslist. 

“I was angry. I was very angry because of what we were doing, because of what we were here for,” Matthews said. “Now we’re hugging our babies even more tighter. We don’t know if we’re going to be targeted for something else. We don’t know and it’s just scary.”

A painting of Danajiea Gardener. (Courtesy)
A tribute to Danajiea Gardener outside of her family’s home.

The Greater Grand Rapids NAACP says they were disappointed but not surprised to hear this happened. 

“That is terribly horrible and insensitive in these times when you have a young individual lose their life in such a tragic way. To bring the whole race element into that … where is our sensitivity and where is our humanity?” NAACP GR President Cle Jackson asked. “For all of us as West Michiganders, we should not be comfortable with that at all.”

Jackson says over the last few months, the NAACP has gotten multiple reports of racially charged incidents throughout the city. He says his office has recorded the Alger Heights incident along with numerous complaints of preferential treatment for white patrons at a Grand Rapids post office. 

He says there have also been reports of black workers being forced to take COVID-19 tests to continue working while their white coworkers were not. Jackson did not disclose the company from which this particular complaint stemmed from. 

“I think what this pandemic has done is that it has amplified where we really are not only as a community here but as a country in terms of race relations,” Jackson said. 

Jackson also briefly spoke about the protests at the state’s capitol where protesters flew confederate flags as they pushed back against stay home orders. He says it’s important now more than ever for local and state leaders to denounce this kind of behavior and speech. 

“What we need to do is come together as American citizens, as Grand Rapidians,” Jackson said. “We don’t have the luxury to engage in these divisive behaviors like what we just experienced in Alger Heights.”

The HRO staff of Grand Rapids, which includes the city’s attorney’s office and the office of oversight and public accountability, is investigating the craigslist post to determine if the author broke any laws. 

Matthews says after the post was shared hundreds of times on social media, her family has gotten an outpouring of support from neighbors who say this is not representative of the Alger Heights Community.

“I think that before they judge someone, they should figure out exactly what’s going on before you perceive people to be a certain kind of way or think that certain things are going on. I think you need to come forth and own up to the responsibility,” Matthews said.

The HRO staff asked anyone with information on the craigslist incident to call them at 616.456.3263 or email them at hro@grcity.us

The Greater Grand Rapids chapter of the NAACP is encouraging everyone to continue documenting racial incidents and reporting them as they happen. 

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