Andrew Friedman was with his 6-year-old daughter playing at the field around the Mercer Island skate park on Sept. 29. It wasn’t unusual for them to spend time at Mercerdale Park together. This time their trip also happened to fall on the first day of the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah.
But Friedman, having moved to the Island more than a year ago, did not expect to see antisemitic icons at the park. He and his daughter discovered a swastika crudely painted on a concrete riser. The 6-by-6 inch symbol represented a kind of hatred he had yet to describe to his daughter. It ignited the conversation between the father and kin.
“For the first time, I had to explain to her that some people throughout her life won’t really like her because of her religion,” he said. Friedman told his grade schooler that “While you might look like a lot of other people, you’re not always treated like the other people that look like us.”
After the discovery, Friedman immediately sent an email to Mayor Debbie Bertlin and the city parks department. Attached was the photo. And within minutes Bertlin responded, came to the park and the police were called.
Police have no idea how long the swastika had been there, said Commander Jeff Magnan of the Mercer Island Police Department. There’s no suspects whatsoever and the skate park isn’t lit at night, adding to the difficulty of pinning the culprit down.
“We have not seen anything like this in quite some time,” Magnan said. “Obviously we’ll follow up on any lead we can, but at this point we see this as a one off. Someone did something stupid, but we don’t necessarily see it as pervasive issue on the Island right now … Unfortunately not much we can do on this one.”
There were more swastikas found last week, according to a post on Nextdoor — a neighborhood-specific social media website. A photo shows the side of a truck covered in multiple white symbols parked somewhere along Fleury Trail. City council candidate Daniel Thompson described the symbols as “windows” in his comment on the resident post. He later quantified that the paintings were actually “windows and swastikas” in a subsequent post.
The Anti-Defamation League confirmed that there was a truck covered in spray paintings with many large, clear swastikas discovered on Mercer Island. Investigators familiar with hate symbols, in their Center on Extremism, confirmed a number of the symbols were in fact swastikas.
What’s been seen on the Island recently is no different than what’s happening in other areas of Washington and the U.S. In the country, statistics gathered by the FBI show that from 2016-17 hate crimes rose by 17 percent. Crimes targeting Jews and Jewish institutions rose 37 percent. And of religious-based hate crimes, about 58 percent targeted Jewish people.
In early March, a photo that circulated on social media drew criticism from locals. It showed two Mercer Island High School students giving the Nazi salute. The photo was taken off campus, but was ultimately circulated with other MIHS students. The photo negatively impacted the education environment, district staff said at the time.
More recently, hate group Patriot Front members disseminated stickers in areas of the Puget Sound. This time they hit the University of Washington, Western Washington University and Snohomish High School, to test the waters on reactions and gauge if fertile ground exists, the ADL said.
“There’s somewhat of a lack of awareness of what is really going on,” said Miri Cypers with the ADL. “A lack of awareness about what’s happening in our different communities. I do think because these hateful acts are becoming more commonplace people are starting to become numb to them.”
Cypers said, as the behaviors become more normalized, a sense of apathy develops.
“It’s really important for these acts not to become part of our everyday life and normalized,” she said. “It’s good to speak out and spotlight and take action when things like this happen.”
Resident Jennifer Muscatel organized a rally after the photo of high school students giving the Nazi salute was circulated online. She wanted the gathering to act as a place for healing. Overall, she remains unsatisfied with how others on the Island react to acts of hate.
While no one is publicly defending the incident, Muscatel said, and no one is defending the crime, at the same time there’s a lack of empathy toward the people the act of hate is impacting.
“There’s an indifference and the victims are left defending themselves,” Muscatel said. “In this circumstance it happens to be the Jews again. The Jews wind up having to defend themselves against these crimes, opposed to the community surrounding them and showing them empathy. There’s no reason that we should be proving to the community that we’ve been harmed or that we’ve been attacked. The community should be outraged with us.”
Because of the increase in antisemitic instances both nationally and here in the Seattle metro area, a group called Seattle Community Security, modelled after New York’s longstanding Community Security Service, has recently been formed. The group’s aim is to help greater Seattle’s Jewish organizations become more knowledgeable and enact their own security.
Friedman is one of a small handful of people involved in organizing the effort. He said for four to eight weeks members of different Jewish organizations, including Synagogues, are trained to conduct their own security, whether during Jewish holidays or at events.
Currently, the second group of classes are being held at the Stroum Jewish Community Center. The first free training started two months ago and graduated about 17 people from a group of more than 30. It’s a difficult course of physical training and Krav Mcgaw, the Israeli based military designed martial art. The founding members — Uri Chotzen and Ari Zecher — are both veterans of the idea and a part of the Israeli Defense Forces.
Trainees from the Seattle region also learn how to check people at doors, get comfortable asking questions and stopping someone if they become a threat. The second part of the training is spent learning the basics of security, how to secure a building and how to look for threats. Every organization has their own security needs.
“Police are very happy to have us around and happy to have us doing our own security,” Friedman said. “Police can not be relied upon to be any group’s personal security. Groups have to secure themselves. This is a first step of us making an effort to secure our community here in Seattle.”