Police to investigate swastika graffiti as hate crime, as PAL raises funds for repairs

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State Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck) tours the damage made to the Port Washington PAL clubhouse by vandals. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Anna Kaplan)

Swastika graffiti sprayed on the Port Washington Police Athletic League’s clubhouse will be investigated as a hate crime, the chief of the Port Washington Police District said in a statement.

The news came just hours after the PAL took up a collection via GoFundMe to replace, repair, and restore the clubhouse to its original form after vandals broke into the building, stole a can of red spray paint, and sprayed 12 swastikas on its walls, equipment, and throughout its offices last weekend.

 

A tractor was broken and spray-painted with a swastika by vandals who broke into the Port Washington PAL clubhouse. (Photo courtesy of the office of Anna Kaplan)

Port Washington Police District Chief Robert del Muro was originally quoted in a Newsday story late Wednesday as saying that the department would not be investigating the act as a hate crime, but reversed course in a statement issued early on Thursday, Oct. 20.

“I apologize that my position regarding the egregious hate crime perpetrated at the Port Washington Athletic League building was not stated more clearly,” Del Muro said. “Unquestionably, a swastika is a deplorable symbol of hate. I attempted to explain that this hate crime differs from many others in that the symbols were placed in the interior of the building, rather than on the exterior, and were painted using materials that were already in the building and were accessed after the building was burglarized. Of course, that does not diminish the severity of the crime. It is a hate crime and is being investigated as such. Please be assured that this hate crime is being actively and thoroughly investigated by our agency, and we will tirelessly pursue the perpetrator(s).”

State Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck), who was among the first to condemn the act, toured the clubhouse on Thursday morning.

“The anti-Semitic hate crime that took place in Port Washington this weekend, where several enormous swastikas were spray-painted throughout a youth athletic facility, is unequivocally an anti-Semitic hate crime,” Kaplan said in a statement.”I’m relieved that Chief Del Muro agrees, and has clarified his statement so that the community can have faith that this horrendous act will be thoroughly and properly investigated as a hate crime. Port Washington is an inclusive, welcoming, and loving community, we all stand together to denounce this horrendous crime that has been perpetrated against us, and the law enforcement community has our full support in seeing that justice is served.”

The League of Women Voters of Port Washington-Manhasset also condemned the graffiti in a statement: “As an organization that values the diversity of our community and promotes the inclusion of all voices in order to strengthen the state of our democracy, the use of such hateful symbolism, designed to intimidate and alienate, is repugnant and unacceptable to us.”

Port Washington school district Superintendent Michael Hynes also discussed the incident in a video entitled “No Place for Hate.”

“The fact that anyone broke into a club dedicated to the children of our town is bad enough, but what makes this act so incredibly atrocious is that a hate crime took place right in front of our eyes,” Hynes said. “We have seen the images. We should all be outraged. When a hate crime happens, whether it be at PAL, a religious institution, a business or a school, it both alarms and infuriates all of us, and the question is, what are we going to do about it as a community?”

Hynes continued that “we are living in a divided and difficult time.”

“This type of hate cannot be tolerated in Port or anywhere else,” Hynes said. “This pandemic has brought out the extremes of the human condition…I know that over the past several months, right here in Port, we’ve seen divisions and upset about issues ranging from how we reopened in September to how we’ve served students in both our brick and mortar and in our remote schools. But one thing we all need to be united on is stopping hate in our community. Words and symbols matter, they leave an everlasting impression upon us. So let us come together and stop, or rather, stomp out this type of hatred from our schools, our homes, and everywhere else in our beautiful town. The reality is that public displays of hate are on the rise. It doesn’t matter if you are a student, an educator, a family member or a business owner, we all have a role to play in combating bias and bullying as a means to stop the escalation of hate, and I implore us to do this together.”

Members of the PAL have taken up a collection to restore the clubhouse to its prior status via a GoFundMe page, with a goal of $25,000. Port resident Danielle Elkins said in a statement on the page that the facility’s tractor, which was broken and sprayed with a swastika by the vandals, would have to be replaced, and further repairs would have to be made around the clubhouse.

As of Tuesday morning, with the fund live for 5 days, over $24,000 was raised of a $25,000 goal.

“PAL is reeling,” Danielle Elkins wrote. “The Jewish community of Port Washington is reeling. The entire town is reeling. PAL is my second home and I do not have the words to fully express the hurt, anger, and fear I feel following this crime. Please consider donating to this fundraiser to support PAL as we replace, repair, and restore all that was damaged.”

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