Swastikas found near Manistee cause residents some concern

MANISTEE — Ed Jones was surprised to see swastikas painted on his street in Filer Township near Manistee. He said it’s been a problem over the last couple of weeks on Fox Farm Road.

Jones and other neighbors have repainted the street and covered up the graffiti but it concerns him. He said he’s worried about the Jewish community and people of color who live in Manistee. He said it sends a very bad message.

"I am concerned that the community leaders have not denounced the recent frequent displays of hateful swastikas along Red Apple and Fox Farm Road. The city passed a (resolution) promoting inclusion and diversity (in 2020). Let's be more than just politically correct. Unfortunately, residents had to step up and get their paint cans and paint over the hateful symbols. And, I apologize to folks visiting our quaint little community, possibly looking for a place to live only to see these symbols of hatred. Obviously, and sadly, it does exist here," Jones said in an email to the News Advocate.

Since early 2020, the City of Manistee, Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce and four townships within Manistee County (not including Filer Township) have adopted a “Racial Justice, Inclusion and Diversity Resolution” put forth by the Manistee Area Racial Justice & Diversity Initiative.

According to its authors, the resolution declares that the entity “will not support attacks on, harassment of, or intimidation of individuals based on race, color, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, immigration or refugee status, sexual orientation or identity, special physical or mental needs, familial or economic status or other social identities status.”

Jones describes how he found out about the swastikas.

"I was driving into town, probably going to play in the Manistee senior softball team. ... And I was driving down Red Apple. And there are swastikas on the street. And it's like, what is this? What's going on here, and so I drove by there was one and then I drove a little farther up by Magoon Creek on the road, and there was another one and then there was another one close to Sundling Park entrance. And so I went ahead and drove into town. And then I was talking to some of my friends, some of the guys who were playing the softball team, and one of them was aware of it," Jones said.

He thought somebody would contact someone.

"I guess I was just being a lazy citizen. But I assumed that ... there would be some kind of action, but then, like, the next day, they were still out there. And ... I didn't have a paint can in my car. And so, but then I noticed that people had gotten creative. And one kind of made a window out of one, you know, out of the diagram, and then another person had put rainbow colors on one. And so people had creatively painted over the swastikas that were there. And so, within a day or two, they all had been painted over, I'm sure by citizens. But then, in about a week, they appeared again. And actually, one of them (a new swastika) was painted over where somebody had painted over it," Jones said.

Then one appeared closer to where Jones lives.

"Then there was actually one on Fox Farm (Road), between Red Apple (Road) and Maple (Road). And so then, me and some of my friends were driving somewhere, and I said, you know, I think I'm just going to send a letter to the paper, you know, just a little thing, you know, just to draw attention to just the kind of the theme these days seems to be divisiveness and spreading hate and those sorts of things," Jones said on his decision to speak out.

Jones is not Jewish nor a person of color but is passionate about being inclusive.

"I'm not Jewish, but I'm very culturally sensitive. You know, I have Jewish friends and friends of color. And I hear stories all the time that even though this is 2021, 'You know, I can't go shopping at the mall without knowing that people are staring at me or worrying about whether people think I'm going to steal something,'" Jones said.

He also described how this incident was personal to him.

"I was in a relationship with someone when I lived in Louisville, and they had a strong Jewish background. I actually took care of the yard of two Holocaust survivors ... and so, you know, it is really sensitive and personal to me. Because I've so admired how resilient they were and how they just kind of got over here and got on with their life and rebuilt the life. So yeah, it's personal to me in that way. So that's sort of what inspired me to just stop being lazy and at least kind of get the word out," he said.

Hate crimes against Jewish people are down. However, an FBI report noted that there was an overall rise in hate crimes against African-Americans and Asian-Americans in 2020.

A statement from the Anti-Defamation League on its website said it was "deeply alarmed by 2020 FBI hate crimes data." The ADL tracks hate crime data from the FBI and works to stop it.

The statement said, "In 2020, the FBI reported 7,759 hate crime incidents, a 6% increase from 7,314 in 2019 and the most since 2008, when 7,783 hate crime incidents were reported. Reported hate crimes targeting Black people rose to 2,755 from 1,930 the prior year – representing a 43% increase, and the number of anti-Asian hate crimes rose from 158 to 274.

"Reported hate crimes targeting the Jewish community made up nearly 60% of all religion-based hate crimes. Overall, religion-based hate crime incidents decreased from 1,521 in 2019 to 1,174 in 2020; this includes incidents targeting the Jewish community, which decreased from 953 to 676.

"The increase in reported hate crimes comes despite the fact that, for the third straight year, the number of law enforcement agencies providing data to the FBI has declined."

Bruce Allen, a member of the Manistee Area Racial Justice & Diversity Initiative, wants people to know that the swastikas painted in Filer Township are not representative of the community as a whole and that people came together to paint over the symbols of hate.

"This is a child with chalk," he said.

The fact that people were surprised and angry about it, was a "good thing," according to Allen.

"It tells you something (about people being so upset). It's not all over the county. It's not all over downtown. You had an area that's probably where the kid was. And the sheriff's taking it very seriously. I suspect the kid's going to get caught. It's a wonderful thing that people get so upset," Allen said.

"But, frankly, I come from an era where my father was NAACP chairman, and there were meetings in our house. And we talked about adults with weapons, burning crosses on the walls. We talked about people getting beaten up and killed. And that's real. A kid with chalk requires a whole different frame of mind. You know we recognize the symbolism, and I don't want anybody to see that."

In a statement, Manistee County Sheriff Brian Gutowski confirmed his office is looking into the matter.

"Our office currently has an open investigation regarding the swastikas in the area of Red Apple between Merkey Road and Fox Farm Road. Our detectives did an extensive canvass of the area looking for anyone who might have seen the perpetrators. As of this evening, we have not made any arrests in the case. The Michigan State Police have also taken a complaint on this incident," the sheriff said in an email to the News Advocate.

He also wanted to notify members of the public, that if they have any information about the case to contact his office at 231-723-8393.

"These symbols of hate are abhorrent. The fact that someone is drawing swastikas on the streets of our community is something that will not be tolerated. We encourage anyone with information that may lead to identification of the people responsible for these acts to contact the Manistee County Sheriff’s Office immediately. We do not take incidents like this lightly," Gutowski said.

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