Someone spray-painted a swastika, a Nazi salute, and President-elect Donald Trump’s name on a vacant storefront window in South Philadelphia overnight, an act of vandalism police are investigating as a possible hate crime.
— Jared Brey (@jaredbrey) November 9, 2016
City workers were scrubbing the graffiti off the old Meglio Furs’ window at Broad and Wharton streets by lunchtime. Another swastika was found on a utility box a block south, and some cars and homes on South Sixth Street near Christian were defaced with racist graffiti too.
Still, some denounced the swastikas as a sign of the racism they credit with sweeping the bombastic Republican to an unexpected win — and an omen of dark times ahead for race relations.
— Jared Brey (@jaredbrey) November 9, 2016
“We have a president-elect who has set the tone and brought every racist bigot out of the woodwork and from under the rocks,” said Asa Khalif, a Philadelphia-based organizer with Black Lives Matter.
The graffiti’s timing — on the 78th anniversary of Kristallacht, the anti-Jewish pogroms in Germany and Austria — sparked further concern.
— Philly Mag (@phillymag) November 9, 2016
“That in and of itself is something we should all be concerned about,” said Nancy Baron-Baer, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
She added: “After you have an event as large and commanding as a presidential election, there are people who react positively to the news, and people who react negatively. Clearly, this is a negative reaction as to what occurred last night. It’s our hope that it’s isolated. It’s our hope that the people in the neighborhood won’t allow the behavior to become routine.”
Mayor Jim Kenney agreed: “The acts of political and racial vandalism that occurred this morning in South Philadelphia must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. As I said in my statement to residents today, in the wake of the election, Philadelphians must work tirelessly to bridge the divides that have plagued this nation for decades. I know that many residents are planning to take part in vigils and rallies tonight and in the days ahead, and I urge you to gather respectfully and peacefully.”
— Michael Matza (@MichaelMatza1) November 9, 2016
Race has been a constant topic in the presidential campaign, with Trump’s vow to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, deport undocumented workers and clean up inner cities. The Ku Klux Klan’s official newspaper, the Crusader, also endorsed him, one of the few endorsements the controversial candidate collected.
There are swastikas all over south Philly, (a very minority and immigrant heavy area) today. This is why I am angry. We can not stand down.
— Toasty Yosty (@breeyost) November 9, 2016
Just saw a black woman with graffiti on her car that read “Trump Black Bitch.” So tell me again how everything will be alright. #philly
— Mary Westbrook (@mjwestbrook10) November 9, 2016
— Anthony (@Anthony19145) November 9, 2016
The South Philadelphia swastikas and racist graffiti weren’t the only ones to pop up overnight. In Florida, someone scrawled a swastika on a media table, and in New York, on a wall at a baseball field.
In fairness, it’s unclear whether any of the Nazi symbols were scribbled by pranksters, someone just looking to be provocative, or someone with more sinister motives.
Still, the Philadelphia swastika happened just blocks from Geno’s Steaks, where owner Joey Vento for years had a controversial “Speak English” sign (since removed) in the window, in a neighborhood whose increasing diversity has sparked contention.
When a friend told her about the swastikas, Siobhan Sullivan, 25, of Haddon Heights, rushed to South Philadelphia with scrub brushes and cleaners in hand.
“Having to watch your Jewish friend take a scrub brush to a swastika isn’t even something you should have to comment on, on terms of how f**ed-up it is,” Sullivan said.
While generally not a common occurrence, swastikas have been appearing with alarming frequency in the Philadelphia region in recent months, Baron-Baer said. In August, someone spray-painted a swastika on a Havertown woman’s trash can, and vandals spraypainted swastikas on a bathroom wall of Swarthmore College’s library. A Swarthmore school playground also was defaced with swastikas.
Critics predicted such symbols of racial hatred will only become more common, saying Trump capitalized on racists’ frustration with eight years under a black president.
“This is white racist backlash,” Khalif said. “Trump played right into that. When you have a candidate saying: ‘We’re going to take our country back again, make America great again,’ who do you think he wants to take the country back from? Barack Obama.”
Sullivan agreed, saying Trump’s race-tinged rhetoric and subsequent election win is “your official a-OK from the government to go out and spread all of the hate you want. It just rehydrates all the hate that people felt so comfortable spewing in their houses; now it’s out on the street. It’s not just something your racist uncle says at Thanksgiving. It’s on Broad Street.”
She doesn’t think her swastika-removal days are over.
“I think that a really good plan of action would be for everyone to have a scrub brush and some paint thinner on them at any time,” she said.