On the day honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., vandals spray-painted a swastika and racial graffiti Monday on California 94 freeway signs carrying the slain civil rights leader's name.
This is the second time the signs have been defaced since they were unveiled two months ago.
Within two weeks after the 10-mile stretch of California 94 was christened in King's honor Nov. 20, the letters KKK were painted across one of the signs on the westbound side of the freeway near the Lemon Grove exit in La Mesa.
On Monday, two signs were painted with the letters SWP, which police believe stand for Supreme White Power, and with swastikas.
San Diego police said one of the defaced signs was discovered at about 9 a.m. on the east side of the freeway near Interstate 805.
"We are treating this as a hate crime," Sgt. Fred England said.
The second vandalized sign was on the west side of the highway, near the Spring Street exit in La Mesa.
The Rev. George Walker Smith, pastor of the Christ United Presbyterian Church and a black community leader, said he was not surprised by the defacing. "You can expect this from a racist community," he said. A memorial to King has been a sore point for San Diego's black community.
Last July, the Board of Port Commissioners, in a 4-3 vote, rejected the City Council's request to name the convention center after King. The San Diego Convention Center opened to the public four days after the unveiling of four new signs on California 94.
The Rev. George Stevens, who led the convention center fight, denounced the latest incident.
"It's unfortunate that this happened," he said. "But it's disgraceful that the elected leadership in San Diego has not taken a position on this. The leadership is perpetuating (racism) by not speaking out against it," he said.
"The good people who are white should be embarrassed by this. . . . They should come out and condemn this," he said.
Bishop George McKinney, pastor of St. Stephen's Church of God on Imperial Avenue, was chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway Committee, which was formed to raise funds for the signs. He could not be reached for comment.
The naming of the freeway after King is the last of several official attempts to find a place to honor him.
In April, 1986, the City Council voted against naming California 94 for King and voted instead to rename Market Street for him. But, in a referendum a year later, voters rejected Martin Luther King Way and restored Market Street.
In the aftermath of that battle, members of the Chamber of Commerce worked with black leaders to establish a scholarship fund and a statue of King in Balboa Park, which hasn't been erected.
Last September, following the Port District's decision on the convention center, the Legislature approved renaming California 94 at the urging of Assemblyman Pete Chacon (D-San Diego) and state Sen. Wadie P. Deddeh (D-Chula Vista). But the Legislature stipulated that private donations be used to pay for the new signs.