Community Marred By Rash of Hate Graffiti

Community Marred By Rash of Hate Graffiti

August 14, 2002

An area synagogue, a hair salon and a public school were defaced with spray-painted swastikas, among more than a half-dozen reported incidents of hate-based graffiti in the Potomac area on Saturday, Aug. 10 and Sunday, Aug. 11.

Responding to a report of hate-based vandalism on Sunday, 1st District police officers reported that a swastika was spray-painted in gold on the rear door of the Zohra Hair Salon on Tuckerman Lane, with the word "Jews" painted below.

Abigail Weizmann, a hair stylist as Zohra, said that an obscenity was also spray-painted on the back door.

"When we saw it, we took pictures and reported it to the police," said Weizmann. "It was painted over, almost immediately."

On the same day, police were also notified of vandalism to the sign at the entrance to the Congregation B'Nai Tzedek synagogue on South Glen Road.

"A sign at the entryway to our congregation was spray-painted with a swastika and the word 'Nazi'," said Rabbi Stewart Weinblatt of B'Nai Tzedek. "We removed it on the same day. We didn't want those who did it to have any kind of satisfaction … or any sense of permanence."

OTHER INCIDENTS OF HATE graffiti were reported in the area over the same weekend. Police reported finding gold swastikas spray-painted on the Stonebridge community entrance sign at Stonebridge View Drive and Travilah Road, and on the side of Stone Mill Elementary School on the morning of Saturday, Aug. 10. A spray-painted "KKK" symbol was also reported on the sign at the school's front entrance.

The following day, police spotted a white van with a red swastika and the word "Nazi" spray-painted on the right side of the vehicle, which was parked in the parking lot of the Cabin John Shopping Center. A citizen also notified police of three traffic signs with spray-painted swastikas on Seven Locks Road northbound from Tuckerman Lane.

Weinblatt said this is the first incident of hate-related vandalism to B'Nai Tzedek facility, which was initially dedicated in 1995. But he also said that he perceives a growing problem.

"We need to be vigilant against intolerance and anti-Semitism, which appears to be growing," said Weinblatt. He asked that those in the community "be sure that we speak with our children and that we are careful not to allow this kind of prejudice to permeate this community … It's very easy for these forces of hatred to express themselves and alarm others.”

EVEN AFTER THE GRAFFITI WAS removed, the vandalism had an unsettling effect on those who saw it.

"Any time something like this is done, especially in a neighborhood with a high percentage of Jewish people, it is extremely unnerving and disturbing," said Officer Derek Baliles of the Montgomery County Police Department.

"I think we're pretty nervous," said Weizmann. "The clients ask us about it, and it think they're nervous, too."

"The situation is a very sad and unfortunate one and it certainly is a jarring and jolting thing to come into a place of serenity and worship and see," said Weinblatt.

"I grew up here, and it's the first time I've seen anything like this happen, ever," said Weizmann. "I'm so surprised I'm seeing this."

Brittanie Werbel, associate director at the D.C. regional office of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), agreed that the incident was out of the ordinary for the area.

"In general in the D.C. area, we haven't been receiving calls about hate graffiti regularly," said Werbel, who said the ADL had received several calls about the vandalism in Potomac.

NO ARRESTS HAD BEEN MADE in relation to the graffiti as of Monday, Aug. 12.

"No one saw it being done and we are working with the community at this point," said Baliles. "As in most cases when people do hurtful vandalism, unless they are caught in the process, they are hard to find."

Werbel said that conclusions about perpetrators of hate-related vandalism can be difficult to draw.

"There have been cases where the perpetrators have been found to have connections to neo-Nazi groups, [but] most hate crimes are not committed by people who are members of hate groups," said Werbel.