Victor Cruz was shocked when he heard the news that teammate Nikita Whitlock’s home in Moonachie, New Jersey, had been broken into, and even more disturbed to learn that vandals left several racist messages on the walls of the house.
“I was just appalled,” Cruz said at his locker after Thursday’s practice. “I’ve never heard of anything like that around here. You hear about it in places in the South and things like that, but you don’t hear about things like that around here, less than 15 minutes away. For that to be evident in this day and age, here and now, it’s pretty unfortunate.”
The incident is being investigated as a hate crime, a police spokesman told northjersey.com on Thursday.
Whitlock and his wife, Ashley, returned home Tuesday night to find that windows had been broken, jewelry and electronics had been stolen and several swastikas and racist words had been scrawled on the walls. Ashley Whitlock told Newsday that racial slurs were written several times, as well as “Go back to Africa.” The name “Trump” also was written on a wall.
Cruz was particularly troubled when he heard about the messages of hate. He took aim at what he and many others believe is a deeply divided society, and that the name of the president-elect was left behind in Tuesday’s crime underscored the seriousness of the issue.
“I think there’s a specific mindset that comes with supporting a guy like Donald Trump and supporting what he stands for,” he said. “There’s a certain type of person that comes with that, and I’m not sure that person is always a positive-minded person. If you listen to the comments [Trump] has made about women, or minorities, they haven’t been positive. I don’t think I’ve heard anything he’s said that benefits us or helps us. As a minority, you have to be careful. As a person of influence, you have to be careful. You just have to make sure your family is safe and give them the knowledge they need to stay safe in this world.”
Those are powerful words from Cruz, and I reminded him that he was bound to experience some blowback, especially from people who support Trump.
“That’s fine with me,” Cruz said. “I’m comfortable with that. I’m comfortable to people’s reactions to that. That’s my opinion. That’s my mindset. That’s the way I think. I’m not upset at anybody else that thinks otherwise.”
When I asked if he was blaming everyone who supported Trump, he said that was not the case.
“Obviously, there are people out there that just want change, that want something different, that want someone with more of a business acumen at the helm,” he said. “I understand that, and I’m all for change in that regard. But when it comes to [others] using his name to vandalize things and using his name as a positive reinforcement as to how you’re doing this, that’s where I have the problem.”
Cruz pointed to last week’s shooting death of former Jets running back Joe McKnight outside New Orleans. Mc Knight was killed Dec. 1 by 54-year-old Ronald Gasser in what was reported to be a road rage incident. Gasser was arrested on Tuesday and charged with manslaughter.
“Joe McKnight died in the middle of the street,” Cruz said. “For what? If you’re angry about something that I’m going to say or something that’s my opinion and you’re not angry at guys dying, without being armed, not causing harm, they’re not doing anything wrong, then that’s our issue. You’re worried about what someone of influence may be talking about rather than attacking the actual issue at hand, and that’s minorities dying on a daily basis, dying on a weekly basis, or going through things with their family, vandalism, in the tri-state area.”
Cruz, who grew up in nearby Paterson, is unapologetic about speaking out.
“What’s most shocking about this incident with Nikita Whitlock, it’s 20 minutes from where I grew up,” he said. “This could have easily happened in Paterson, in Clifton or Passaic, Lyndhurst, for that matter.
“Nikita has children, and he’s got to explain that to them. Not right now, but five years from now, 10 years from now, when they ask, ‘Hey, Daddy, remember when that happened?’ It’s unfair. No one should have to go through that.”