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On His Day Off, Kansas City, Kansas, Policeman Cleans Up Racist Graffiti On John Brown Statue

Andrea Tudhope
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City, Kansas, police officer Dennis Vallejo prepares to paint over the vandalism on the Quindaro neighborhood's John Brown statue.

On Wednesday morning, Dennis Vallejo, a police officer in Kansas City, Kansas, removed the tarp covering a statue of abolitionist John Brown to reveal stark black markings sprawled across the monument's otherwise pure white marble. 

The historic statue, at North 27th Street and Sewell Ave. near the Quindaro Townsite, was vandalized over the weekend. Among several markings, two were overtly racist and anti-Semitic: a swastika on the statue's head and the N-word on its feet.

When they removed the tarp, Vallejo and city workers from Operation Brightside also noticed black spray-painted graffiti on the concrete base, but the form was hard to make out.

"I think it's trying to say something, but, you never know," Vallejo said.

He and his wife, Sharon Vallejo, have a side business called D&S Engraving, but Vallejo was donating his time to clean up the statue. He said he had cleaned and repaired several monuments over the years, but had never seen defacement like this.

Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Before he sprayed the stone with high-pressure water, Dennis Vallejo covered the letters 'Erected to the memory of John Brown by a grateful people' to preserve their gloss.

"Look how beautiful this stone is — it's over 100 years old, it's been moved four times. It's awesome," Vallejo said. "It's gonna look brand new."

Vallejo covered the lettering before spraying the stone base. But because this statue is old, and marble is a soft stone, he bought a special paint to cover the damage.

Cedric Patton, who said he has lived in the area his whole life and is proud to call it home, was pleased that Vallejo got to work so quickly.

"We're pretty rich in history out here," said Patton, who is also president of the Quindaro Urban Improvement Club.

Founded by abolitionists in the 1850s, Quindaro began as a safe haven for escaped slaves. It quickly became a burgeoning, predominantly African-American community, later home to Western University, the first African-American university in Kansas. The John Brown statue was built on university grounds in 1911.

Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Cedric Patton, who has been a resident of the Quindaro neighborhood all his life, watched Vallejo clean the statue.

About 10 years ago, Patton said, two bronze placards detailing Quindaro's history were stolen, but that's the only problem they'd ever really had.

"This is unbelievable," Patton said. "Build a graffiti wall and let everybody put on the wall what they want to. Don't go around marking up historical stuff, especially as old as that statue is."

He said he hopes the police find the vandals, but he didn't think it was likely. And installing security cameras could help solve future crimes, but that wouldn't fix the underlying issue, he said.

"The blatant racial tone in the country now ... You can talk about it, but that's not going to solve it. It'll help. There are those among us that don't want to be reached and they're not going to be reached."

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @_tudhope, and email her at andreat@kcur.org.

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
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