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Police investigate graffiti as hate crime; downtown Orangeburg business painted with racist symbols
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Police investigate graffiti as hate crime; downtown Orangeburg business painted with racist symbols

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An Orangeburg Department of Public Safety officer discovered graffiti on all four sides of a black-owned business during a routine patrol on Sunday night.

Cloud 9 restaurant/lounge, located at 1664 Russell St., was spray-painted with symbols including “KKK,” “666” and an inverted cross.

“We’re treating it as a hate crime until the investigation shows otherwise,” Orangeburg Department of Public Safety Col. Ed Conner said.

An officer noticed the graffiti at 11:56 p.m. He notified dispatchers and requested that they contact a key holder to the business.

Other officers arrived to “check the surrounding area and trashcans in an attempt to locate any used cans of paint but were unsuccessful,” an incident report states.

Brothers Aaron and Dean Gillespie own Cloud 9.

Dean said after spotting the graffiti, “You just really take that deep breath and take a huge sigh because you realize that it’s real and the unfortunate thing is there isn’t any secret to the racist rhetoric that’s here locally and nationally, to a large degree.

“Because of that, you just start realizing it’s for real and you just can’t take it for granted. There’s multitude of emotions when you see it. There’s everything from sadness, hurt, anger.”

Gillespie said he doesn’t know the motivation behind the graffiti.

“Right now it would just be speculative, but obviously we have to take it seriously in that we’re here. It happened. We have to be even more cognizant of our surroundings, the type of individuals who may be walking through,” he said.

He said the business had two options: “quit or keep pressing on.”

“We’re going to keep pressing on,” he said.

He and Aaron discussed what to do about the graffiti.

“I told my brother, ‘I would leave it up there.’ The community needs to see it. We can’t just hide it or run from it. Regardless of who did it, it’s up there and we have to accept it and accept all of the emotions that come with it and be willing to have those tough conversations, those sensitive conversations, that nobody likes to have,” he said.

The police incident report states the symbols spray-painted in black, “are known to be associated with anti-black hate groups and appeared to be displayed in that manner on the building.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League website, “The swastika, along with the letters ‘KKK’ and the numbers ‘666,’ is one of the most common forms of ‘shock’ graffiti in the United States, typically spray-painted by juveniles who are not actually white supremacists but simply want to use the image to shock and alarm people.”

Just before 1 p.m. Monday, the Gillespie brothers and others were busy painting the exterior walls black to cover up the graffiti before the business opened at 6 p.m.

Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, was at the business on Monday.

He said, “military veterans, veteran-owned businesses, they shouldn’t have to put up with this type of stuff.”

“The owners are great guys. They do a lot for the community and something like this is just very disgusting. It’s very ignorant and I think it’s important that they know that people stand behind them and support them and that the people who did it know that these folks here have the support of myself and others,” Bamberg said.

“It’s 2020. Nobody should have to deal with this kind of stuff. This shouldn’t happen here in Orangeburg, it shouldn’t happen anywhere and the fact that it does is very disheartening, troubling and it’s a tad angering,” he said.

Conner said the incident remains under investigation.

He noted that South Carolina doesn’t have any “hate crime” laws in place. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Georgia, Arkansas and Wyoming also don’t have hate crime laws.

Conner is asking anyone with information about who may have painted the graffiti to contact Public Safety at 803-534-2812 or Crimestoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC.

Contact the writer: mbrown@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5545. Follow on Twitter: @MRBrownTandD.

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