Madison is experiencing an increase in vandalism targeted toward the Jewish community, reflecting an uptick in these types of crimes statewide.
The weekend of Feb. 14, Madison Police Department received multiple calls reporting acts of vandalism and graffiti.
“We had calls about damages to property trickle in all throughout the day on Saturday,” MPD Chief of Police Michael Koval said.
There were over 25 incidents of vandalism reported over those two days, MPD spokesperson Joel DeSpain said. Included in the graffiti was images of a swastika, genitalia and derogatory phrases, he said.
“At this point in the investigations, there has not been a definitive link to indicate that the various victims were intentionally targeted on the basis of their race or religion,” according to a MPD press release. “A key element that is needed in order to invoke the ‘hate crimes’ penalty enhancer under Wisconsin state law.”
The hate crime penalty enhancer is applied when the victim is selected based on race, religion, color, disability, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry, according to the City of Madison Department of Civil Rights. Furthermore, facts of the crime must reflect that it was the perpetrator’s intent to target the victim based on such descriptors, according to the department.
With multiple cases of anti-Semitic vandalism already reported in 2015, the Jewish community feels targeted, Elana Kahn-Oren, spokesperson for Milwaukee Jewish Federation, said.
The reports described numerous amounts of property damages including graffiti on garage doors, smashed mailboxes and spray painted houses and vehicles, many of which included racist and anti-Semitic language.
“Any time there is vandalism, that has a swastika or a reference against Jewish people, it’s scary and it’s disturbing,” Dina Weinbach, executive director of Jewish Federation of Madison, said. “People will react based on those feelings.”
All of the vandalism occurred on Madison’s west side, North of Mineral Point Road, DeSpain said. The affected area has been described as upper middle class.
There have been similar acts of violence like this in the area in the past, but they are not frequent, Koval said. Occasionally the police department will receive calls describing gang-created graffiti vandalism.
“Every 5 to 10 years we get this kind of racist or anti-Semitic outburst in the city of Madison,” Mayor Paul Soglin said.
The federation is focused on protecting freedom of speech and political expression while restricting offensive language, Kahn-Oren said. However, sometimes it is less of a matter of free speech and more about hatred of a community, she said.
The targets of the recent vandalism in Madison seem to be of a random nature, Koval said. However, MPD is not jumping to any conclusions because the investigation for these incidents is still underway.
The total price of all the damages seems to be in the tens of thousands of dollars, Koval said. The property damage is significant, but the MPD is most concerned with knowing some people could be so vile and hateful, he said.
“It’s critical that the response be firm and clear, otherwise this kind of hatred could escalate and grow, leading to even more acts of violence against persons,” Soglin said. “It is also important to educate the perpetrators in hopes that their lives can be changed so that they are not driven by hatred.”
MPD is taking these acts of violence and hatred seriously, DeSpain said. They have a zero tolerance for anti-Semitic and racist acts, and believe people need to stand together to stop these acts, he said.
An important part of preventing offensive vandalism and actions is speaking out and condemning it, Weinbach said.
“All acts of anti-Semitism and hatred need to be confronted and strongly condemned, Weinbach said in a statement. “What affects [the Jewish community] affects others, and we all need to stand together.”