Phillip and Jean Michael awoke Sunday morning to a scary sight — hate vandalism quite literally on their very doorstep.
Someone spray painted “Jew” on the front door of the couple’s Fieldston home Saturday night, police said, leaving behind the paint cans reportedly used to complete the shocking deed.
Michalina Shuter, who lives near the Riverdale Monument, said she saw the vandalism while walking her dog Sunday morning along West 246th Street. She still can’t quite believe what she saw, especially in a community known for its large Jewish population.
“I heard about this kind of thing happening, and how it’s been happening more frequently because of the political climate,” she said. “I’ve just never seen anything like this with my own eyes.”
Shuter, who is Jewish, has lived in Riverdale for three years with her husband. She chose the area partially because of its large number of synagogues and vibrant Jewish communities.
“What was so odd about it was how quiet it was,” Shuter said. “There was only the one police car there, and there was no commotion or anything. I just happened to turn a corner and it was right there.”
Investigation of the case went immediately to the New York Police Department’s hate crimes task force, which is in the process of combing through video footage around the area in an attempt to locate a potential suspect, said Terence O’Toole, deputy inspector of the 50th Precinct.
“There is a substantial amount of video that the hate crimes task force is going through,” he said. “Horace Mann (High School) has cameras, and we have a new Argus camera at Manhattan College Parkway and Broadway, too.”
Although police believed they could have a suspect by Tuesday afternoon, what confuses O’Toole the most about the case is that there was no indication from the outside the Michaels were Jewish. Even Shuter said she didn’t see anything on the house that might suggest a religious affiliation, not even a mezuzah — a container that holds a Hebrew prayer commonly placed on a doorpost.
“We don’t know exactly why this house was targeted or why these people were targeted,” O’Toole said. “We are looking around to see if there was other graffiti or vandalism on the highway, but we haven’t found any yet.”
This vandalism case is the third reported bias incident in the 50th Precinct this year, O’Toole said, up from two last year.
“It is actually since President Trump’s election there has been a slight increase in the number of hate crimes,” he said. “Not a substantial increase, but a slight increase.”
The first happened in January when police received reports of a swastika drawn in a bathroom at John F. Kennedy Educational Campus, and the second was another swastika drawn on a light post in North Riverdale in February. But those cases, O’Toole said, were likely carried out by teenagers trying — and failing — to be funny.
The case of this Fieldston home, however, suggests a more sinister nature.
“The department takes these sorts of things seriously,” O’Toole said.
In the meantime, some Riverdale residents seemed seriously shaken by the hateful vandalism. Social media teemed with concern for any presence of hate in the community, prompting even the Anti-Defamation League to issue a statement.
“It is horrifying that one’s place of residence would be targeted, attacked and singled out in such a way,” the league New York director Evan Bernstein said. “Elected officials, community leaders and clergy must continue to step up and denounce this appalling act of hate and consistently condemn anti-Semitism and bigotry whenever it surfaces in New York City.”