Friday morning was Jannique Martinez’s quietest neighborhood in years.
She could barely hear the “racist stuff” that had been ringing next door in the 2000 block of Jessamine Court. A reporter from The Virginian-Pilot had stopped by two days earlier to record the sound for a story that vented her frustrations, and now city leaders are condemning her neighbor’s actions and a state housing agency charged with curbing harassment and intimidation is investigating.
“It may be legal, but it’s not right,” Councilor Michael Berlucchi said during a regular meeting Tuesday night. “We can’t stand that in Virginia Beach.”
She noticed that the animal sounds and banjo music were softer than usual when she took her kids to their school bus stop on September 24. Although the sounds are still playing, the difference has given Martinez and her family some peace of mind.
The loud music started in 2017 — about a year after the family of five moved to a cul-de-sac in the Salem Lakes neighborhood.
After calling the Virginia Beach Police Department in July about a noise complaint, Martinez said her neighbor began playing the sound of monkeys screeching from a loudspeaker in the window on the far left side of the house.
On September 16, she could hear the N-word coming from the same room next to Martinez’s house. It frustrated Martinez, who said she couldn’t enjoy something as simple as sleeping with the windows open. Some days she wouldn’t leave her house because she didn’t want to hear the sounds.
Her 7-year-old son was afraid of the neighbor. He often asked his mother what the N-word meant.
He was 2 when they moved to their home in Salem Lakes. Martinez regrets that her son spent most of his life growing up with their neighbor’s behavior.
The mother of three sought help from the police, the Virginia Beach Magistrate Office and a civil judge, all of whom said they couldn’t do anything because the neighbor wasn’t breaking any laws or threatening Martinez and her family.
Virginia Beach Police issued a statement Wednesday called the neighbor’s behavior “appalling and offensive”. But despite multiple complaints of nuisance and loud music, the department had “no authority to intervene and arrests were not supported.” The statement also said officials will monitor and assist as long as it is “within the bounds of the law”.
In the same statement, police said the magistrate and city attorney concluded that the neighbor’s actions do not “rise to a level that Virginia law defines as criminal conduct.” The city attorney pointed to The Pilot to a city ordinance in which state officials can’t intervene if it could violate their First Amendment rights, but her attorneys didn’t answer whether the law prevents the city from taking action in Martinez’s case.
“In the end, the law is the law,” Martinez said during an interview at her home on Wednesday. “What more can (the city) do than they already have – unless something changes and unless the law changes.”
Nancy Eleftheratos, a homeowner at Jessamine Court, said she expected the department’s response after a police officer came to talk to Martinez and herself last week. The officer told both women it was “protected speech,” Eleftheratos said.
But since The Pilot’s story was published Monday, the Virginia Fair Housing Office contacted the Martinez family through a reporter and they are now investigating their complaints. The office is investigating alleged cases of “coercion, intimidation, threat or interference against any person in the exercise or enjoyment of their fair housing rights.”
Neither Martinez nor Eleftheratos expected an outpouring of support from hundreds of people locally and across the country.
When a mob gathered in front of their neighbor’s house on Sept. 24 to denounce the behavior, Martinez said her son showed courage. He told his mother that he wanted to make his own plate, as he saw the members of the community holding.
His inspiration came from the sign his mother made. Sitting on the wooden floor of the living room with colorful stencils scattered in front of him, he followed the letters to spell the chant that filled his dead end: