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

Originally published in The Island Now on October 15, 2020.

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 comes 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.

“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.”

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 Thursday afternoon, with the fund live for only 21 hours, over $12,000 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.”