MERCED - A woman in North Merced discovered in the center of her lawn a four-foot swastika burned with some sort of chemical.
"I just can't believe this," 69-year-old Francis Martin, who is black, said Thursday. "They don't want me here. To me, these are hate messages. That's what I get out of it."
Merced Police Department investigators are deeming it a hate crime. The vandalism, a misdemeanor, carries a penalty of up to a year in jail or up to a $5,000 fine or both, Cmdr. Floyd Higdon said.
He hasn't seen a hate crime case since arriving at the department a couple of years ago. An officer in the records division couldn't remember any recent hate crimes in the city.
Martin moved from Atwater into a home off East Yosemite Avenue this month because she will spend the next year caring for her granddaughter.
Martin's daughter will fly to Iraq next week with the U.S. Army for a 400-day tour.
She said she's seen other black residents in the area and has found her immediate neighbors friendly.
Her son mowed the lawn Wednesday night. When he was done, she noticed the dead grass. On a closer look, she realized it was the emblem of the Nazi party which is often used by white supremacists.
The police officer who responded to the call noticed a second, smaller swastika in the bottom right corner of the lawn.
"People need to know these things go on," she said. "To me, it's serious. I'm frightened."
She said this is the first time anything like this has happened to her.
Merced County sheriff's deputies investigated a hate crime in 2005 when a Winton woman found a swastika and racial slurs scrawled on the street in front of her home.
The two teenagers confessed, explaining it happened after a drunken night of partying. They told investigators they didn't mean any harm.