By: Fern Sidman
In the early morning hours of Friday November 11th, vandals set fire to several parked cars and scrawled anti-Semitic graffiti on nearby benches in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Midwood in Brooklyn in what the police said was a hate crime.
The arson took place along Ocean Parkway between Avenue I and Avenue J in what is commonly referred to as the Flatbush section, where three cars; a BMW, a Lexus and a Jaguar, were set ablaze. In addition, the epithet “KKK” was scrawled on the side of a red van, the police said, and swastikas and anti-Semitic slurs could be found on benches.
“The violence – I’m calling it violence when you blow up three cars – adds a sickening dimension to this type of anti-Semitism,” said Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who lives two blocks away and represents the 48th assembly district. He said he regularly walked past the benches with his 90-year-old mother to Sabbath services. “We walk down Ocean Parkway every single week,” Mr. Hikind said. “All I could think about was my mother sitting on a bench with a swastika. She survived Auschwitz.” Mr. Hikind said that this area of Brooklyn, including Midwood and Borough Park, contains one of the largest concentrations of Holocaust survivors outside of Israel.
The Police Department’s Hate Crimes Task Force is involved in the investigation and Mr. Hikind said the police promised to increase their presence in the neighborhood. “The fact that this most recent attack came on the heels of the 73rd anniversary of Kristallnacht may or may not be a coincidence,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said in a statement in response the episode in Brooklyn. “Either way, this kind of hateful act has no place in the freest city in the freest country in the world.”
“Somebody had to have seen something,” remarked Hikind. “Even the tiniest detail that may seem irrelevant could prove to be a vital piece of information to the investigation. It is simply impossible that three cars were set on fire in the middle of a residential neighborhood and nobody saw anything. To the cowards who did this, who are responsible for this vicious and depraved anti-Semitic act, I say, ‘we will hunt you down and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law for this hate crime.’”
Since Friday, the reward for credible information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for this heinous crime has increased by $25,000. The monies were put together by both Mr. David Ben-Horeen, publisher of The Jewish Voice, as well as other leaders of the community, and $1000 by NYC council member David Greenfield. The reward now stands at $30,000.
As of Sunday afternoon police had made no arrests. The NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating. Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes said dozens of empty beer bottles were found at the scene. He said they would be tested for fingerprints and DNA samples. Police in the 66th Precinct bolstered patrols in the neighborhood; especially at the scene of the attack.
Separately, the police said Friday that they had arrested a man accused of scrawling swastikas in five incidents last week in Jackson Heights, Queens. The man, Franco Rodriguez, 40, spray painted the symbols on the doors of several local libraries and a Catholic church, the police said.
On Sunday, November 13th, about 100 Midwood residents along with elected officials staged a peaceful protest march on Ocean Parkway past the four public benches from which the 16 swastikas had been removed after the pre-dawn attack Friday. Carrying an Israeli flag, the marchers were led by Mr. Hikind, State Senator Eric Adams, Rabbi Chaim Gruber, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel and other community leaders. “There was a time when vandals used magic markers to express hate; now they’re using gasoline,” Adams said.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer condemned the vandalism during an unrelated event on Sunday. “It’s disgraceful and they should throw the book at the people who did it,” Schumer said. “Sometimes vandals think they’re pranks, sometimes they’re more malicious than that. Either way they cause great harm.”
Protesters noted the attack occurred one day after the 73rd anniversary of Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany on Nov. 9-10, 1938, when synagogues were set on fire and the windows of Jewish-owned shops were broken. Sunday’s march also included about 25 people from the Occupy Wall Street movement in Manhattan, which put out a statement condemning the vandalism. The mix of people who showed up for the march “shows that we stand together against hatred. And it makes residents here feel better,” Hikind said.
The NYPD has established special hotlines for tips. Anyone with information concerning Friday’s incident is urged to call 718-265-7327 or 718-265-7387. All calls will be kept confidential.