Head of Marshall School hopes vandalism can become teaching moment
The end of summer vacation came to an abrupt end for the head of Marshall School in mid-August when she found an anti-gay message spray painted on her house. Instead of recoiling in fear, Barb Brueggemann, a longtime educator, is hoping to turn t...
The end of summer vacation came to an abrupt end for the head of Marshall School in mid-August when she found an anti-gay message spray painted on her house. Instead of recoiling in fear, Barb Brueggemann, a longtime educator, is hoping to turn the incident into a teaching moment.
The vandalism occurred on Aug. 9 and Aug. 10. First Brueggemann's home, which she shares with her longtime partner and her daughter from a previous marriage, was egged. The following morning, Brueggemann woke up to find the words "leave dike" spray painted in large white letters across the foundation of her house. Brueggemann was home alone at the time of the incident.
"I felt violated, shocked, scared," Brueggemann said. "It is hard enough to know that there has been physical damage done to your home that costs money to repair; I think anybody could relate to that."
A bias offense report was filed with the state but no suspects were ever identified, Duluth Deputy Police Chief John Beyer said. Brueggemann said she isn't interested in speculating on who did it.
"Obviously we were targeted, but we've decided that one of the important things for us as a family is not to speculate. ... I have no way of knowing who did it, so why go there," Brueggemann said. Instead she is trying to channel her feelings into what she sees as an important community conversation. That conversation will be prompted in part by an open letter to the editor her daughter submitted to the Duluth News Tribune about tolerance and respect in defense of her mother, published on today's Opinion page.
"I don't want this to be about my family specifically; this is an opportunity to talk about preventing hate crimes in Duluth," Brueggemann said. "What I want the people who did this to know is that I am someone's daughter, I am someone's sister and I am someone's mom and the same is true for [my partner]. We are real people and we are good people."
Kathy Nelson, a pastor at Peace Church in Duluth, said she commends Brueggemann's willingness to open up about the incident. The Peace Church has a strong Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual and Transgender community among its parishioners.
"People do bad things when good people stay silent. I think it was good for [Brueggemann] to let people know what happened so we can be her allies in saying we will not tolerate this in our community," Nelson said. "I think a lot of people are blind to the fact that this kind of hate exists in our community, yet its here and we have to take a stand against it."
Beyer said hate crimes are not common in Duluth -- there have been fewer than six in the past year -- but when they happen they are taken very seriously.
"That is something we take a long, hard look at," Beyer said. He added that crimes motivated by bias often can result in heightened charges.
Because of a lack of information on potential suspects, the Brueggemann investigation is closed, but Beyer said the police would be willing to reopen it if more information surfaces.
Brueggemann already has put it behind her.
"It is important not only that we don't stay silent, but that we also forgive and continue to live our lives," Brueggemann said. "We are all very good people ... and we love Duluth. I think my family brings an awful lot to this community."
SARAH HORNER covers K-12 education. She can be reached weekdays at (218) 723-5342 or by e-mail at email@example.com .