Swastika, other vandalism at temple not yet a ‘hate crime’

| March 1, 2010

Vandals scratched a swastika, "KKK," "Hail Hitler" and the N-word on doors inside Temple Beth El in Boca Raton on Feb. 15.

Was this a hate crime?

The synagogue's leader is unsure, police are still trying to make that determination and the Anti-Defamation League believes there are grounds for pursuing it as a hate crime.

For now, three boys —14, 15 and 17, and all of them white — who confessed to vandalizing the temple, have been charged only with criminal mischief.

Police still are investigating the case and say other charges may be pending. The case has not been turned over to the State Attorney's Office.

Police will not discuss exactly what the boys admitted to, and they have not dismissed the possibility of classifying the vandalism a hate crime, spokeswoman Sandra Boonenberg said.

"The detective said the evidence did not support [an enhanced hate crime penalty] at this point. But the investigation is ongoing," she said.

The hate crime classification can be added to charges to enhance punishment. Under Florida law, an act becomes a hate crime when there is proof of prejudice against a religion, race, color, sexual orientation, age and disability.

"Generically, cross burnings, swastikas, explicit anti-Semitic or racially based symbols or threats are obviously relevant in the determination of [hate crimes]," State Attorney Michael McAuliffe said.

Still, McAuliffe declined to comment on the specifics of the Boca Raton case.

McAuliffe and the Anti-Defamation League have been offering hate-crime training of law enforcement agencies, and sessions were held in Boca Raton the same week Temple Beth El was vandalized.

ADL Florida Regional Director Andy Rosenkranz, though, had a more direct assessment of the case: "It's a prima facie hate crime."

"A swastika at the side of the synagogue, I think, is a strong indication of bias and prejudice directed at a religious institution for its purposes of being a Jewish institution," he said, "We'd be concerned if this is not being investigated as a potential hate crime."

Rabbi Dan Levin — leader of the 1,300-family congregation — said the synagogue was appreciative of the outpouring of support from across all faiths, including the Christian and Muslim communities, and from police. But, he said, he leaves determination as to whether a hate crime occurred up to the State Attorney's Office and police.

"What we're hopeful for is that these young men are going to have the opportunity at some point to have some education and understanding about why this was such a terrible, horrible thing and for them to understand what those messages mean and why they're simply not tolerated among a society as great as ours," he said.

According to the Florida Attorney General's latest annual report, there were 18 hate crimes reported in Palm Beach County in 2008. Half of those were religion based.

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Category: Synagogue/Jewish Security

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