Police are investigating swastikas that were drawn on posters at the 67th Ave. train station in Forest Hills last Friday.
According to Capt. Jonathan Cermeli, commanding officer of the 112th Precinct, the crime is being treated as a possible bias incident by the Hate Crimes Task Force. There were five swastikas on three different posters.
Cermeli said in an interview an evidence collection team responded, there was no community unrest as a result and the graffiti was removed by MTA personnel. He added that the precinct is not handling the investigation but rather the Hate Crimes Task Force is, and since the posters are in the subway, it is also NYPD Transit District 20’s jurisdiction.
While not taking the incident lightly, Cermeli said there doesn’t have to be a boost in security around synagogues based on the drawings in the train station.
“You can’t take anything for granted, especially in this day and age with what’s going on, so we take all of these incidents very seriously and that’s why they’re all being investigated but I wouldn’t say there’s any reason to heighten the alert of any synagogues or for the Jewish population within the community at this time based on those swastikas,” he said.
He did say that there is already a high alert for the Jewish High Holidays with an uptake in police presence in both marked and unmarked cars at locations. Cermeli said they have already deployed plainclothes officers to some sites.
There has also been contact with rabbis about any threats or incidents.
“It’s a partnership that we have to have,” Cermeli said. “It works both ways. If they don’t tell us, ‘Hey, we’re receiving a bunch of death threats’ we don’t know.”
This comes less than a full month after the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh that killed 11 Jewish worshipers. Cermeli spoke generally about what would happen if graffiti appeared on a synagogue or other place of worship.
“If I saw this on a specific synagogue and then not only was it a swastika but maybe it said, ‘This is the beginning’ or ‘Be prepared’ or some indication or threats or other mitigating factors in addition to the graffiti, I would then say maybe we’d put that particular synagogue on high alert and we’d get a threat assessment,” Cermeli said. “We would have to analyze a little bit better.”
The clearest example of the graffiti was on a poster for the game Fallout, in which the mascot, Vault Boy, had a Hitler mustache and swastika armband drawn on.
The photos were posted to Facebook for area residents to see. One person disagreed with posting the actual images, saying, “Let’s not spread their negative message by sharing it on Facebook and offending potentially hundreds more people.”
Most supported the poster and thanked her for telling the NYPD.
One commenter said, “Just a few short weeks ago, we, as Jews, watched in horror as older congregants were gunned down in shul. We deserve better than just being dismissed when there’s a concern, or admonished when we warn others in our community. Many people in this community lost family in the Holocaust and they know what happens when you ignore ‘small’ things, particularly in the context of everything else that is going on in the world.”