The Santa Barbara News-Press office in downtown Santa Barbara was vandalized sometime between Wednesday night and Thursday morning before scheduled protests were set to take place at 6 p.m. on Thursday in response to the allegedly racist front page headline published this past Saturday.
The News-Press recently published a front page headline that read “Illegals Line Up for Driver’s Licenses,” prompting public outcry from Santa Barbara residents. The vandalism occurred sometime Wednesday night between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. and consisted of red spray paint on the office’s wall facing De La Guerra Plaza.
According to Santa Barbara Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Riley Harwood, the spray paint included pro-immigration website references and statements such as “The border is illegal, not the people who cross it,” and “Fight back.”
“There were also about seven different splatters in addition to the graffiti statements that were painted,” Harwood said.
Harwood said the vandalism comprised a total area of 88 square feet, which accumulates to approximately $1,450 in damage. As of Thursday afternoon, Harwood said he believes the graffiti had been cleaned up.
“There isn’t any increased police presence because of the incident,” Harwood said. “But if protesters take to the streets, we need to facilitate that.”
In a statement provided by Santa Barbara News-Press Director of News Operations Donald Katich, the News-Press has used the term “illegal” for 10 years now in regard to describing those living in the U.S. illegally, notwithstanding their country of origin.
“This practice is under fire by some immigration groups who believe that this term is demeaning and does not accurately reflect the status of ‘undocumented immigrants,’ one of several terms other media use to describe people in the United States illegally,” the press release stated. “It is an appropriate term in describing someone as ‘illegal’ if they are in this country illegally.”
The statement also advocated that protesters shift their frustration toward the legislative immigration process instead of at the News-Press.
“The outrage voiced by immigration advocates should be directed at the current immigration system that takes years of bureaucratic red tape to complete,” the press release stated. “This outrage is shared by those who go through the process legally and stand at the end of the line of those who skirt U.S. law.”
The recent act of vandalism came in the wake of a call to action by the community representation group People Organizing for the Defense of Santa Barbara Youth (PODER). In a statement, PODER said the use of “illegal” in the recent News-Press headline violates the journalistic standard dictated by AP Style and is an attack on local undocumented residents.
According to PODER spokesperson Isabel James, however, none of the protest organizers were involved in the vandalism, nor does the group support the act.
“We don’t support vandalism of private property, but we do understand the message was coming from the frustration with biased media,” James said.
Community members of PODER like James said News-Press’s defense of the allegedly racist headline only exacerbates community frustration surrounding the issue.
“We hope the protest will be a platform for dialogue between community members and the Santa Barbara County News-Press,” James said. “It doesn’t look like they intend to make an apology or change what they thought was okay. We’re here to tell them that it’s not.”