TURTLETOWN, Tenn. — Shards of glass from a broken coffee pot still sit in the coffee maker struck by a chunk of cinderblock that crashed through Ellis Weatherspoon’s window.
“Get out of town n —— or u die,” read the note taped to the portion of the block. It was signed “KKK.”
On June 13, as Weatherspoon entered the kitchen around midnight with his 3-year-old son, Elijah, the block came flying through the trailer’s side window, according to a Polk County Sheriff’s Office report. The block did not strike the 45-year-old Weatherspoon or his son.
Elijah is the son of Weatherspoon, who’s black, and 28-year-old Jennifer Weatherspoon, who’s white. The couple, who have been together for seven years, consider themselves married.
“At first I thought a box fell because I was packing things. I thought, ‘Maybe a box fell and some of my things broke,’” Jennifer Weatherspoon said. “When I turned the light on and actually looked, there was glass everywhere.”
Years ago, it would have been frowned upon for a black man to be in a relationship with a white woman. In Polk County, the Weatherspoons, who moved into their Turtletown trailer in February, feel that’s still the case.
“When we first moved here, they said, ‘We going to burn you out,’ but we didn’t pay them any mind,” Ellis Weatherspoon said.
There have been other incidents in the past five months, he said. He did not report those incidents to authorities because he didn’t take them seriously at the time, he said.
But the sheriff’s office is not classifying the cinderblock incident as a hate crime.
The office’s incident report categorizes the crime as an act of vandalism. On the report, motivations for the crime offer options such as racial, gender and religions. In this case, the report reads, “None.”
“If it is some kind of hate crime, then we will look into it and see if it needs to go that avenue,” Polk County Sheriff Bill Davis said Wednesday.
There is no state hate crime law that would make it illegal to commit crimes based on the offender’s bias for factors such as race, religion or sexuality.
Tennessee’s Civil Rights Intimidation Law can be used against anyone who “damages, destroys or defaces any real or personal property of another person with the intent to unlawfully intimidate another from the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured by the constitution or laws of the state of Tennessee.”
Davis said the case remains under investigation and that evidence has been sent to a lab at the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office and it will take about a week to get the results back. He said detectives were following up leads Wednesday.
On Wednesday, plastic lined the Weatherspoons’ window to cover the jagged hole. The couple now is afraid to sleep inside the trailer. They sleep in their truck, away from home.
There have been other incidents since they moved to Turtletown, including verbal threats made directly to Ellis Weatherspoon, he said.
Since the cinderblock incident, though, the couple said they have not seen increased deputy patrols near their home and they feel as if the sheriff’s office is not taking their situation seriously.
The night of the incident, deputies told him, “‘We don’t see anyone. We can’t do anything,’” Ellis Weatherspoon recalled.
The sheriff maintained that the case is being properly investigated.
“It’s still ongoing, and hopefully we’ll find out who this person is,” he said.
Davis said this is the first racial case that comes to his mind since he began working in Bradley and Polk counties in 2006.
According to the 2010 census, of Polk County’s 16,825 people, 50 are black and 215 are multiracial.
Drew Robinson, an assistant district attorney who oversees cases in Polk County, said the Weatherspoons “need to rest assured that we are doing something about it.”
Robinson, who is black, said he has never personally experienced any racism locally with the exception of a couple of defendants who were upset about prison sentences.
If there is enough evidence in this case and authorities apprehend a suspect after interviews, the appropriate charges would be filed, he said.
“We’re not going to let people get forced out of their homes or anything. We take that very seriously,” Robinson said.
The Weatherspoons had plans to move before the recent incident in hopes of finding work. Ellis Weatherspoon said he picks up odd jobs in the area, but has no steady work. The couple has no phone and is trying to scrape together enough money to move.
They moved to Turtletown because Jennifer Weatherspoon grew up in the area.
“Mostly because [of] my mom and daddy. They live three miles from here,” she said.
Some locals admitted it’s hard to be accepted in the area if you’re an outsider.
“A lot of them [locals] don’t like me because I’m from Vermont; I’m a Yankee,” said Doug Miner, a resident who has been in the area since 1996.
While Miner said he has never heard anyone make racist comments toward the few black families who live in the area, he wouldn’t be particularly shocked if they did occur.
“There’s some good ol’ boys around,” he said. “A lot of them run the rebel flag.”
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