A Royal Oak synagogue was vandalized on Friday. It is the latest incident in a wave of hate crimes in Michigan against various communities, most prominently the Jewish community. The increase in crimes has led to lawmakers introducing a bill to curb the crimes.
Police arrived at the place of worship to find the hateful messages spray painted on the building. There was a swastika and the word AZOV. They quickly went to work to clean it up. Once the paint was gone, they began looking into who could be responsible for such a heinous act.
As of press time, nobody had been charged with the crime.
According to Patch.com, the word AZOV is associated with a Ukrainian militia that subscribes to Neo-nazi beliefs. Rabbi Mendel Polter said that the word means "leave."
Anti-semitic crimes hit their highest levels since at least 1979 when the Anti-Defamation League began keeping track of them. In 2022, there were more than 3,600 incidents and the number promises to increase as 2023 goes on.
Rabbi Polter told WXYZ: "I have ancestors who went through the holocaust. I have relatives who were killed by the Nazis, the swastika represents everything that in the last century was the greatest antithesis of Judaism."
And it's not just the synagogue in Royal Oak being targeted. Across Oakland County, particularly in Oak Park, there have been more instances of a swastika being painted on various buildings and items that belong to people of Jewish descent.
Around The County
As local police look into the rash of hateful graffiti messages, they are getting some assistance. Oakland County 115 reports that there are Federal investigators on the case as well. This is important as the rise of these crimes has gripped the Jewish community in Oakland County and may fear what's next.
Oak Park residents Tamar and Shaul Anthony were shocked when they found that someone spray painted a swastika on their child's stroller. They aren't sure who would have done such a thing, nor do they have a reason why someone targeted them.
But they told WXYZ that now they are worried about their safety. They also are discussing how to talk about anti-semitism to their three children, something they hadn't wanted to do until they were older. "It’s kind of scary that someone came up to our property and were like ‘Hey there are Jews here, we don’t like you...'"
They also spoke about how a group of white men yelled racist and horrible things at them through the window of a car in their hometown. It seems designed to make a group of people fear for their safety and possibly force them out of their homes.
Sentiments that Rabbi Polter agrees with. He told WXYZ: "They’re trying to instill fear, they’re trying to channel our energies into fighting them and we have so much better to do."
Lawmakers in Lansing want the Jewish community to know that they are not alone. There is now legislation before the state house to strengthen hate crime laws in the state.
Working To Decrease Hate
The Michigan Hate Crime Act would change the way these crimes are prosecuted. Under this act, the term "hate crime" would encompass graffiti, intimidation, and harassment, bodily harm directed at people because of their race, sexual orientation, or religion, among other protected classes.
This new bill would replace the one on the books from 1988. That law did not include orientation, gender, gender identity, or age. Once passed, it would go to Governor Gretchen Whitmer's desk and she is expected to sign it into law.
Rep. Noah Abit, a West Bloomfield Democrat, told The Detroit News that he is pleased that the new law would toughen the penalties for hate crimes. He went on to say that he believes these actions are "terroristic in nature" and that there should be severe punishments for criminals.
He went on to say: "There is never just one victim of a hate crime. An entire community is victimized too. Hate crimes tell all those who share a victims identity: 'People like aren't welcome. People like you don't belong. People like you will not be safe.'"
U.S. Rep Haley Stevens agreed with the sentiment. She wrote on social media that these are targeted attacks and that they are not ok.
Part of her message was meant to inspire hope in the Jewish community and others that have been dealing with these hate crimes: "To our Jewish community: you are loved, you are supported, and we will root out hate wherever it may rear its head. Thank you to the Royal Oak Police Department for your swift actions as we continue to uplift this synagogue in love."