Jannique Martinez says that since July, her family has had to endure recordings of loud, screeching monkey noises and recordings of racial slurs directed toward their Virginia Beach, Va., home every time they leave or enter their residence.
Martinez — who is Black — claims her neighbor has set up motion sensors to detect the family’s movements and harass them. But police, citing no physical confrontation or verbal threats, have said there is nothing they can do.
This week, following national news attention, Martinez said the loud noises coming from her neighbor’s home have finally stopped. But, she says, the neighbor continues to display dizzying strobe lights.
“I feel like it shouldn’t have to be violent to be against the law,” Martinez told Yahoo News. She also says that the neighbor still has eight cameras pointing at her home.
“This isn’t about me,” Martinez said. “Racism affects so many people in this country. ... No family should have to live with this kind of harassment.”
Martinez says it began in 2017 when her neighbor began playing loud music, about a year after the Martinez family moved into a cul-de-sac in the Salem Lakes neighborhood. This past July, Martinez called local police to file a noise complaint after hearing what she describes as deafening music coming from the neighbor’s home.
The situation then got much worse, with the neighbor allegedly beginning to play loud sounds of monkeys. The family says they often heard the N-word coming from the neighbor’s home. Earlier this week, footage of the neighbor’s home — complete with pulsating lights, loud banjo music and clips of “South Park” characters saying the N-word — went viral on social media.
Martinez says her 7-year-old son is frightened by the neighbor and would ask what the N-word meant because he heard it so often. But when Martinez’s family reached out to police to end the alleged harassment, they were told the neighbor had not broken any laws.
“As appalling and offensive as the neighbors’ behaviors are, the city attorney and Virginia magistrates have separately reported that the actions reported thus far did not rise to a level that Virginia law defines as criminal behavior,” the Virginia Beach Police Department said in a statement last month. “This means the VBPD has had no authority to intervene and warrants were not supported.”
The VBPD did not return Yahoo News’ request for comment.
Martinez believes if the roles were reversed, or if she were a different skin color, there is no doubt something would be done.
“I feel like if we were a white family, a lot more would have been done,” she said.
Some legal experts say that police can, in fact, intervene in the case.
Kim Forde-Mazrui, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, believes the police inaction on the “outrageous situation” is a cause for concern. He also says that the neighbor’s alleged behavior may run afoul of the “fighting words doctrine” that allows the government to sometimes step in when language could incite violence.
Forde-Mazrui said that police should attempt to stop the alleged harassment and let the courts decide from there. “Courts read that [doctrine] narrowly ... but if you understand the nature, I think it’s reasonably likely this could cause the family to react.”
But other law enforcement experts say that bringing a hate crime case against the neighbor could be tricky. “You can walk a fine line and not cross over into something ‘actionable,’” Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, told the Washington Post. “This neighbor knows exactly how to walk the line, but it doesn’t make his actions any less harmful to the family.”
Meanwhile, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring told the Post on Wednesday that the neighbor’s alleged behavior is “unacceptable” and that his department’s Office of Civil Rights had been in touch with Martinez.
The situation has roiled Virginia Beach. Michael Berlucchi, a member of the City Council, said last week at a town meeting that while the neighbor’s alleged harassment “may be legal, it’s not right.”
“The safety and dignity of everyone in Virginia Beach has to be prioritized,” Berlucchi told Yahoo News.
And Berlucchi said that while some of his colleagues have publicly denounced the alleged actions of the neighbor, others have not.
“[Black people] should feel safe in every neighborhood,” he added. “We really need to make sure that everyone knows that the city won’t stand for this, and I’m committed to that.”
Berlucchi said police have received a verbal agreement from the neighbor that the noise activity will stop, but Martinez says other harassment continues.
Other neighbors have also come to Martinez’s defense. Nine complaints have been filed against the neighbor, mostly for noise violations and parking complaints, according to WAVY News. So far, however, the neighbor has not been charged with a crime.
Virginia Beach, a coastal city in southeastern Virginia, is home to nearly 500,000 people. About 66 percent of its residents are white, while 19 percent are Black. Two of the 11 City Council members are Black, although the city has traditionally been dominated by white politicians. Virginia Beach also has a history of racial unrest, including a riot in 1989 that damaged scores of businesses.
Martinez credits her 11 years of military experience in helping her keep her cool in the ongoing confrontation with her neighbor.
“The calmness and levelheadedness has been embedded with me through my military career,” she said. “You are constantly being tried and tested and you have to maintain your military bearing. ... I [also] worked really hard to get where I am, and I can’t let one person who is a coward get the best of me.”
Martinez says her immediate community and family have been supportive in helping her navigate this ordeal, but she maintains that something needs to change.
“Police could have done more ... but they have a choice not to,” she said. “The issue is really what the law will enforce and what it won’t.
“I feel like racism is not an issue in this country because it doesn’t affect white people,” she added. “It affects us in a country that was never for us.”
Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images, Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
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