by Eric Calder
There’s a spray-painted anti-Semitic message reaching a procession of victims from its place on a fence in a residential neighborhood. The fence is property of Hillside Gardens and Nursery (1006 S. Institute St.), just a turn and a short drive from the city’s Hillside Community Center. In your author’s time in the area, he gathered unexpected local responses on how this crime should be handled.
I approach a man who identifies himself as Hillside’s owner, aside his bulldozer. I describe the scene at the three-way stop made up of Sante Fe and Arcadia — the 4-foot-by-4-foot Jewish star with the misspelled “troble” beneath it, positioned head-on with cars coming to a stop on Arcadia. What, I ask with faux-naiveté, do we (citizens/humans) do in this case: “Call the police?”
The nursery’s owner is not alarmed and doesn’t think the law should be notified. He’s worried about inciting more graffiti that police would make him deal with. As we separate, he drives away in his equipment.
I see a police vehicle (#9357) without its lights on, stopped for a red light at the Fountain Avenue and Institute Street intersection. I want to tell him about the hate crime. I do everything to let the cop know I need to speak with him before he acknowledges me with a wave from behind the wheel. The light changes. He drives past me.
I do not believe my reason for attempting to talk with the policeman was lacking any urgency, but what if it was even more vital? My motions suggested it. Turn on your sirens; drive through the red; and next time and all times see to those flagging you down officer — for your sake as well.
The intersection has a crossing guard for schoolchildren. The guard sees that the police passed me when I obviously wanted him to pull over and started yelling for the disappearing car.
I ask for the crossing guard's thoughts on the despicable painting.
“You’ll need to tell Hillside Nursery that.”
I explain to her that I had, and that he thought it best just to let it be.
She says insistently to not involve the police, saying, “They’ll go after [the business owner]. He’s had some break-ins up there. He doesn’t need the trouble. I live in this neighborhood. Don’t call the police."
She tells me that the police won’t do anything unless they catch someone spray painting. She uses the cop that didn’t stop for me as an example of how the police force is understaffed now, and how the burden — financial and otherwise — for the vandalized fence would fall on Hillside Gardens and Nursery.
A mother pushing a stroller with another young girl by her side reaches the corner shared by the crossing guard and me. The guard greets them by name and continues talking to them as she follows them down the street. They’re headed southward, in the direction of the fence.