TAMPA — Ray Berry didn’t give a second thought to the homeless man who asked him and his four friends for change as they got out of his car outside a downtown Tampa restaurant.
His friends were visiting from his hometown of Virginia Beach, Va., for a birthday celebration. The Nov. 17 reunion’s good vibe ended on the way home when Berry’s car was lit up by the lights of a convenience store.
In foot-high letters, someone had etched the n-word on the hood of his 2015 Dodge Dart. The car doors and the trunk were also scratched.
Shame, anger and shock welled up in the 29-year-old. He thought of his daughter and his soon-to-be-born son.
"I felt empty and sad," Berry said. "I felt the sadness of not being able to protect them from this."
An academic adviser at the University of Tampa, Berry said he doesn’t have the estimated $2,400 to repair his car. His insurer told him his premiums will go up if he makes a claim.
So he started a GoFundMe page to both raise money for the repair and to raise awareness that black people still face overt racism. As of Tuesday night, he had raised about $1,600.
"I was not going to be shy about the fact I needed help financially, but from an emotional standpoint, too," he said. "I want people to know these things are still going on."
Berry is sure the vandalism was the work of the homeless man, who he said was white. He said he and his friends politely declined the man’s request for change. His friends recalled seeing the man hovering outside during the meal.
Because of the racial epithet, the vandalism could be classified as a hate crime, said Tampa Police Department spokesman Steve Hegarty.
But an investigation has stalled after a review of a nearby hotel security camera footage failed to provide any evidence.
"It’s inactive unless there is some additional information," Hegarty said.
Berry’s GoFundMe page has attracted a number of commenters, most expressing their sadness at what he went through.
"It’s sad to see this kind of ugliness still going on. It makes my heart hurt," Debbie Presley wrote.
Not all are supportive, though.
"What kind of person starts a fundraiser every time something goes wrong in their life? Get off of welfare and find a job, beggars," Artyom Marennikov wrote.
Berry said no one is forced to donate, but he is grateful to those who have.
He said it’s the first time in his life that he has been the target of overt racism. And until he can pay for the repair, he has to continue driving a car daubed with a racial epithet every day.
"It’s a constant reminder of the pain that I experienced," Berry said. "He didn’t even know my name."
Contact Christopher O’Donnell at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.
To donate, go to Berry’s GoFundMe page: http://bit.ly/2Av1UTd