by Nat Stein
On Aug. 6, two days after a pair of hate crimes shook Colorado Springs, hundreds of people came together to denounce bigotry and affirm that this community values multiculturalism, tolerance and peace. The rally, organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) State Conference, took place in Bonforte Park, just a block from Temple Beit Torah, the reform Jewish synagogue that was targeted last week.
Anti-Semitic graffiti — a swastika next to the Nazi salute misspelled as “sig [sieg] heil” — was found tagged on the temple’s sign, as was the N-word, written out in lowercase, on a nearby neighbor’s car.
Investigators are on the case but no suspects have been identified yet, according to police spokesperson Lt. Howard Black. “At face value, it’s somewhat obvious” this vandalism was bias-motivated, he says, emphasizing that the department takes hate crimes very seriously. That means charges could carry heavier penalties, including alternative sentencing options. “But I can’t say one way or another until we really get into it,” Black says.
Community members held the rally to tell the perpetrator, local minorities and the rest of the country that “love lives here” in Colorado Springs, where a reputation for exclusionary ideologies still lingers. A long list of faith and civic leaders addressed the gathered crowd, some of whom brought their own lawn chairs and handheld signs to the 90-minute event that resembled, at points, both a spiritual service and political rally. At the end the mic was open to anyone who felt moved to speak. Woven throughout the remarks was the common thread of neighborly solidarity — that bigoted acts are unacceptable in a community where everyone, regardless of race, religion, etc., is welcome.
“Y’all renewed my faith in this community,” said racial justice activist and Old North End resident Kevin Mitchell. “But after this rally, don’t go put love back on the shelf and let it collect dust … We have to keep standing for each other in love.”
Locally, the crimes add to a growing list of incidents over recent months. In May, swastika stickers were found on stop signs and public benches. Last month, a known white supremacist was arrested after he was caught on security camera posting a “Fight Terror, Nuke Israel” sticker on the entrance to a synagogue in Rockrimmon.
Over the past half year, vandals have targeted Jewish cemeteries nationwide and, in general, reports of hateful acts against other minority groups — Muslims, African-Americans, immigrants and LGBTQ people — are on the rise too, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The Independent is part of a network of newsrooms committed to documenting hate, in an effort not only to inform local readers, but also to help amass better data on bias-motivated incidents in America. The ProPublica database this coalition is building is based on verified stories submitted by victims and witnesses, so we ask that you let us know if you, or someone you know, has experienced a bias- or hate-motivated crime. Submit tips using this online form.