Tag Archives: vandalism

Shielded Native American sites thrust into debate over dams

A little-known federal program that avoids publicizing its accomplishments to protect from looters the thousands of Native American sites it’s tasked with managing has been caught up in a big net.

The Federal Columbia River System Cultural Resources Program tracks some 4,000 historical sites that also include homesteads and missions in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.

Now it’s contributing information as authorities prepare a court-ordered environmental impact statement concerning struggling salmon and the operation of 14 federal dams in the Columbia River Basin.

A federal judge urged officials to consider breaching four of those dams on the Snake River.

“Because of the scale of the EIS, there’s no practical way for us, even if we wanted to, to provide a map of each and every site that we consider,” said Sean Hess, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Pacific Northwest Region archaeologist. “There are some important sites out there that we don’t talk about a lot because of concerns about what would happen because of vandalism.”

Fish survival, hydropower, irrigation and navigation get the most attention and will be components in the environmental review due out in 2021. But at more than a dozen public meetings in the four states to collect feedback, the cultural resources program has equal billing. Comments are being accepted through Jan. 17.

The review process is being conducted under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, an umbrella law that covers the well-known Endangered Species Act. Thirteen species of salmon and steelhead on the Columbia and Snake rivers have been listed as federally protected species over the past 25 years.

But NEPA also requires equal weight be given to other laws, including the National Historic Preservation Act, which is where the cultural resources program comes in. Among the 4,000 sites are fishing and hunting processing areas, ancestral village areas and tribal corridors.

“People were very mobile, prehistorically,” said Kristen Martine, Cultural Recourse Program manager for the Bonneville Power Administration.

Some of the most notable sites with human activity date back thousands of years and are underwater behind dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. Celilo Falls, a dipnet fishery for thousands of years, is behind The Dalles Dam on the Columbia River. Marmes Rockshelter was occupied 10,000 years ago but now is underwater behind Lower Monumental Dam on the Snake River.

“If we’re breaching dams, it would definitely change how we manage resources,” said Gail Celmer, an archaeologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon ordered the environmental review in May after finding that a massive habitat restoration effort to offset the damage that dams in the Columbia River Basin pose to Northwest salmon runs was failing.

Salmon and steelhead runs are a fraction of what they were before modern settlement. Of the salmon and steelhead that now return to spawn each year, experts say, about 70 to 90 percent originate in hatcheries.

Those opposed to breaching the Snake River dams to restore salmon runs say the dams are an important part of the regional economy, providing irrigation, hydropower and shipping benefits.

Meanwhile, several tribes said they are better able to take part in the review process than they once were.

“Tribes have not had much opportunity to participate in these things because they didn’t have professional staff or trained people,” said Guy Moura of the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington state, noting the tribe employed four people in its cultural resources program in 1992 but now has 38. “With growth in size, there also came the evolution of what was being done.”

The tribe at one time had a large fishery at Kettle Falls, on the upper part of the Columbia River, but it was inundated in the 1940s behind Grand Coulee Dam. Dams farther downstream on the Columbia prevent salmon from reaching the area.

Also among the 4,000 historical sites is Bonneville Dam, one of 14 dams involved in the environmental impact statement. Bonneville Dam is the lowest dam in the system at about 145 miles from the mouth of the Columbia River. It started operating in the 1930s and became a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

Local anti-Semitic incidents reach 20-year high

Just days after the Milwaukee Jewish Federation reported a dramatic rise in anti-Semitic incidents in southeast Wisconsin last year, a massive spree of vandalism in Madison included the spray-painting of property with anti-Semitic, Ku Klux Klan and Confederate imagery.

Thirty-nine acts of vandalism on Madison’s west side were reported to police during the Jewish Sabbath beginning after dark on Friday, Feb. 13, and continuing into Saturday, Feb. 14. Most of the incidents involved property damage such as smashed windshields and mailboxes, as well as spray-painted obscenities. But five were anti-Semitic or racist in nature, according to Dina Weinbach, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Madison.

A car belonging to federation president Jim Stein was vandalized during the rampage and an anti-Jewish slur was spray-painted on a garage door across the street from his home.

There also were swastikas painted on a garage door and a driveway in different neighborhoods. The letters KKK were spray-painted on the side of a house.

Attending the federation’s board meeting on Feb. 17, Madison Police Chief Mike Koval described a handful of the incidents as “hateful,” but said they do not necessarily qualify for hate-crime enhancements under Wisconsin law, according to Greg Steinberger, who attended the meeting. Steinberger is executive director of Hillel at the UW-Madison, which serves a community of 5,000 Jewish students. 

In May 2014, UW-Madison students rejected a resolution calling for the university to divest from Israeli companies. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a growing trend among far-left activists on campuses throughout the world, and it is becoming increasingly laced with anti-Semitism. Many proponents of the BDS movement perpetuate standard anti-Semitic myths, such as Jewish control of the media, banking and entertainment industries.

Steinberger was able to point to UW-Madison’s rejection of BDS to reassure concerned Jewish alumni and parents of Jewish students who called him after learning about the vandalism spree, he said. Many sought reassurance that Madison is a safe place for Jews. 

“I’ve been here for 15 years, and I’ve always felt Wisconsin is a particularly welcoming and hospitable campus,” Steinberger said.

Weinbach said she also received calls following the vandalism from people who were fearful, but added that she “received a lot of calls from people outside the Jewish community to show their support and their disappointment that this could happen.

“If one group is targeted, everyone is affected, and we all have to stand together to condemn acts of hatred,” she said.

“The Madison and Milwaukee Jewish communities are working closely with law enforcement officials, as they investigate these crimes,” the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation said in a statement. “We are thankful for their diligence and professionalism.”

But, the statement continued, “Problems of bigotry, racism and anti-Semitism cannot, however, be solved solely by law enforcement. Solutions must take place at all levels of a community, including elected officials, media professionals, co-workers and neighbors. Hateful speech is often the precursor to vandalism, harassment and violence.”

The Jewish community in southeastern Wisconsin, like Jewish communities across the globe, has been on edge following the recent surge in anti-Semitic attacks in Europe, especially in France. The Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s audit of anti-Semitic incidents in southeastern Wisconsin during 2014 shows that local fears are well-founded: There were twice as many verified incidents in 2014 than were reported in any single year in the last two decades. 

Experts say that such audits represent only the tip of the iceberg, as most incidents go unreported. The federation corroborates and reviews each incident before it’s officially recorded. The federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council works collaboratively with schools, law enforcement and national agencies to address the incidents as well as the underlying contributing conditions.

Among the most common expressions of anti-Semitism recorded in the report were a record number of swastikas on public and private property. One possible cause for the alarming increase is the exploitation of anger toward Israel over ongoing hostilities with Palestine.

“We must recognize that sometimes such criticism of the state of Israel — or activism against its legitimacy — is a cloak for age-old Jew hatred,” said JCRC director Elana Kahn-Oren in a statement.

In recent years, the JCRC has focused increasingly on anti-Semitic harassment and verbal expressions among middle and high school students, which often takes the form of jokes, pranks, teasing and bullying.

“Kids hear it form their parents and take it out on their classmates,” Kahn-Oren told WiG. “They don’t have the filter their parents do. We should educate Jewish teens to recognize anti-Semitism when they hear it, understand what it means, understand the role of speech in creating hateful environments and help (teens) develop a kind of a tool box of ways to respond to things in ways that don’t cost them all their social capital.”

After a recent anti-Semitic incident at a suburban Milwaukee school — an incident that wasn’t included in the audit — the JCRC brought in a young person from the Anti-Defense League to facilitate a program for teens. Kahn-Oren said her group sponsored a similar program last year.

“They talk about the pyramid of hate and that you start with speech and move up through vandalism and threats to discrimination,” she said. “It gets young people talking about what they hear and how they respond to it and how they could have responded to it. So much (anti-Semitism) comes in the form of jokes. So how can you sort of appropriately take things out of the conversation?”

Kahn-Oren says that peer pressure is often a very effective way of calling out a person who’s using hateful language. 

“Jews will always speak up about anti-Semitism, but what we really need is others to also denounce bigoted language — against anybody,” Kahn-Oren said. “To me that’s really the call to action from this audit. We need to create a culture where we have friends and allies who stand up for each other.”

Museum working to preserve plywood art in Ferguson

The Missouri History Museum and the Regional Art Commission are working to preserve art that has been added to plywood meant to protect storefronts or cover damage from protesting in Ferguson and St. Louis.

The wood has been enhanced with drawings, bright colors and positive sayings, such as “listen with love” and “heal the world,” since a grand jury last month declined to indict white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old.

Hundreds of artists have banded together to highlight the community’s strength and provide a positive outlet that will allow people to move past the images of businesses being looted and burned, said Tom Halaska, owner of the Art Bar on Cherokee Street and an organizer with Paint for Peace STL. The effort has received tremendous support from business owners and residents, he said.

About 100 board-covered businesses have been decorated, and participants plan to continue their artistic mission, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The museum hopes to eventually collect some of the art for research or possibly for an exhibit, according to Chris Gordon, director of library and collections.

But not everyone supports the preservation effort, and opposition has been felt by business owners and protesters alike.

“It’s not the history you’d want to remember,” said Varun Madaksira, owner of the Original Red’s BBQ in Ferguson, which was set on fire after the grand jury announcement.

Tony Rice of Ferguson has been protesting since Brown was killed on Aug. 9. He believes the plywood art masks residents’ sadness.

“It’s an attempt to whitewash the pain the community has suffered,” Rice said.

Supporters of the effort say art can help turn a negative situation into a positive one. Boarded-up buildings can lead people to believe an area is unsafe, said Rachel Witt, executive director of the South Grand Community Improvement District.

“When you put paint on, it really changes the perspective,” she said.

Fraternity shuts Ole Miss chapter after noose-tying

A national fraternity group has closed its University of Mississippi chapter after three members were accused of tying a noose around the neck of a statue of the first black student to enroll in the Southern college that was all-white at the time.

The university announced this week that the national office of Sigma Phi Epsilon, based in Richmond, Va., had closed its Ole Miss chapter.

Besides the noose, someone draped a pre-2003 Georgia state flag with a Confederate battle emblem in its design on the face of the James Meredith statue in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 16. Meredith’s enrollment in 1962 set off a violent attack by anti-integration protesters on federal authorities, leaving two people dead and scores injured.

The names of the three students from Georgia haven’t been released. They were kicked out of the chapter, which itself had been suspended pending the review.

Ole Miss spokesman Tom Eppes said university disciplinary proceedings against the three students are ongoing. He also said the FBI is still investigating.

The Lafayette County district attorney has said state charges won’t be brought because no state laws were broken. Mississippi’s hate crime law requires an underlying crime for those additional charges. Because the statute itself wasn’t marred or broken, prosecutors say typical vandalism charges don’t apply.

After the noose was found, the university asked the national headquarters to review the 130-member chapter, which had been on campus since 1987.

“The closure is not a result of what happened with the Meredith statue, but the Meredith statue precipitated the intensive review of how they conduct business,” Blanton said.

Ole Miss and fraternity officials said they found a pattern of underage drinking and hazing which broke both university and Sigma Phi Epsilon rules. University officials said the national office had previously intervened in 2010 to fix similar problems.

“We are disappointed that a pattern of bad behavior and serious, inexcusable hazing occurred within the chapter,” Dean of Students Sparky Reardon said in a statement. “Periodic reports from and meetings with local alumni and national headquarters led us to believe that the chapter was improving.”

Sigma Phi Epsilon CEO Brian Warren said the group had “no choice” but to close the unit.

“Though it’s always painful to close a chapter, these students’ actions clearly illustrate a determination to perpetuate an experience based on risky and unconstructive behavior,” he said in a statement.

Blanton said students currently living in the Sigma Phi Epsilon house on campus would be allowed to stay and eat meals there through the end of the semester, but would not be allowed to have any social activities. After that, he said the university, which owns the land under the house, and the fraternity would discuss uses for the structure.

Sigma Phi officials said they would discuss a return to campus with the university. It’s not clear how long that might take. Blanton said that several years ago, the university did not reinstate the closed chapter of another fraternity until all the members at the time of the closure had graduated.

Administrators have fought against the university’s Old South image, banning Confederate battle flags from football games in 2003 and ditching its Colonel Reb mascot for a black bear in 2010.

But those efforts have been undermined by unflattering incidents, such as an election night disturbance in November 2012 when some students used racial slurs and profanity to protest President Barack Obama’s re-election, or an October 2013 performance of “The Laramie Project” where football players and other students used gay slurs to heckle the play about the 1998 murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepherd, who was gay.

Gay activist’s New Orleans home vandalized

A gay activist in New Orleans says somebody tore a rainbow flag from his balcony and spray-painted a slur on the house he and his partner share.

Police say they and the FBI are investigating the vandalism early on Aug. 3 as a hate crime.

Sixty-eight-year-old John Hill says a neighbor got surveillance video of the vandal, but it doesn’t show the man’s face.

Hill is an equal rights activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. He says he thinks he may have been targeted because he wrote an opinion piece in a newspaper saying Louisiana is still hostile toward gays.

Police have the video up on YouTube and are asking the public to help identify the man.

Florida community unites to repair gay teen’s vandalized home

Volunteers from the Pensacola, Fla., area will unite Feb. 16 to help repair a teenager’s home vandalized in an anti-gay attack.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and other civil rights groups are joining with Christian organizations such as the Pensacola World Changers in the effort.

On Feb. 3, the Pensacola area home of 18-year-old Jesse Jeffers was vandalized. The vandal or vandals spray-painted “KKK” on the front door and also spray-painted anti-gay slurs, swastikas and the message “God don’t (heart) you.” The home also was vandalized inside, with spray-paint, including a red swastika on the ceiling.

“There are few things that could make you feel more violated than what Jesse suffered: having your home invaded and vandalized, especially when the motivation is hatred toward your very identity,” said Sara Latshaw, a northwest Florida regional organizer for the ACLU of Florida, who helped coordinate the repair effort. “No one in our community should have to go through that. That’s why this diverse group of volunteers is coming together to support him. We want to show that everyone deserves to be free from being abused for who they are, and that this community will not stand for this kind of hatred.”

Mark Taylor of Pensacola World Changers said, “No matter whether or not we agree on everything else, we can agree that we must not stand for acts of hate in our community. It’s important that no matter what we believe, we have to prove that hate is not the answer. We should be able to stand together to help clean up for Jesse and make this right.”

At least 37 people have volunteered for the repair work.

The Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s office is investigating the vandalism as a hate crime.

On the Web…


Minnesota man arrested for throwing rocks at churches

A 30-year-old man is charged with felony vandalism for allegedly throwing rocks at several churches in Buffalo and leaving behind anti-gay messages.

The criminal complaint alleges Wade Murray told police that God wanted him to “hurt people.”

Murray is accused of causing more than $7,500 in damage.

Police say doors and windows were broken Monday at four church buildings in Buffalo, a town west of Minneapolis. Inflammatory messages on posters dealing with religion and sexual orientation were left starting last Saturday night at two of those churches and two others.

Murray was arrested this past week after going to the FBI offices in Brooklyn Center. Bail was set at $30,000.

The Star Tribune reports the complaint only describes the messages as “disturbing and graphic.”

Gay artist arrested for Chick-fil-A graffiti

A gay artist who allegedly painted “Tastes like hate” on the side of a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Torrance, Calif., was arrested on Aug. 8.

The Los Angeles Times reports that police are looking for a second person said to be involved in the vandalism.

The artist, Manuel Castro, 30, was arrested on suspicion of vandalism in West Hollywood, said Torrance police Sgt. Steve Jenkinson.

The graffiti — accompanied by a representation of a cow holding a paint brush — went up while gay rights advocates protested nationwide against company president Dan Cathy’s public denunciation of same-sex marriage and Chick-fil-A’s donations to anti-gay causes.

The graffiti was painted on Aug. 3, at about 6:40 a.m., hours before demonstrators were to arrive for a kiss-in protest.

Castro told the Huffington Post he painted “Tastes like hate” on the exterior wall of the restaurant: “Everybody is entitled to free speech, but it seems like for the gay tribe, this is more of an issue of equal rights — human rights,. I’m against what these people stand for, what this company stands for. They’re trying to take away what little rights we already have.”

Police learned of Castro’s comments but also independently identified him as a suspect, Jenkinson said, adding in a news release that “numerous items of evidence” were discovered at the scene.

Tennessee sees 51 percent spike in hate crimes

Hate crimes in Tennessee jumped in 2011 from a five-year low the year before.

According to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation statistics reported in the Commercial Appeal, there were 261 recorded hate crimes last year.

That is a 51 percent increase from 2010.

Hate crime statistics tend to fluctuate a lot from year to year. There were 426 in 2008, 243 in 2009 and 173 in 2010.

TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm said it is hard to know whether the fluctuations are the result of more crimes being committed or more people reporting the crimes. It could also reflect changes in the way law enforcement officials categorize the crimes.

Hate crimes recorded in 2011 include 71 cases of vandalism, 60 cases of intimidation and 52 cases of simple assault.

Hate crimes committed out of racial bias make up the largest bias category. There were 97 in 2011, about 37 percent of all hate crimes. African Americans were the most common victims, with 68 hate crimes committed against them, about 26 percent of all hate crimes.

Sexual bias formed the second-largest category of crimes with 42 recorded, about 16 percent of all hate crimes last year.

“It’s a reflection of our culture,” said Jonathan Cole, president and chairman of the Tennessee Equality Project. “It’s a reflection of bias toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in our culture.”

Cole said the TBI statistics do not fully represent hate crimes since bias toward transgender people isn’t included in the report.

Helm said whether transgendered victims are included in the statistics depends on how investigators categorize a crime.

She noted that hate crimes make up only a very small percentage of the crime in Tennessee each year.

“But to the victim of those crimes, one offense is one too many,” she said.

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Hate returns to Ferndale, Mich.

Local police say they’re investigating as a hate crime an act of vandalism against a Ferndale, Mich., man and his boyfriend.

At about 1 a.m. on June 13, someone splashed red paint on the home and car of one of the victims in the Detroit suburb, Police Sgt. Patrick Jones told the Daily Tribune. The word “fag” was spray painted on his car in yellow paint.

The words “white fag” were scratched on the driver’s side door of the other victim’s car, Jones said. He estimated the cost of the vandalism at several thousand dollars.

“I consider it a hate crime,” Jones said.

Ferndale was the scene of a spate of similar hate crimes in the 1990s and early 2000s. The crimes prompted the formation of a group called Friends and Neighbors of Ferndale.

The group disbanded about eight years ago after the hate crimes involving malicious destruction of property and threats abated, the Tribune reported.

– from AP and WiG Reports