Police believe they have halted the “hater” who recently defaced several buildings in northwest Queens.
Franco Rodriguez, a 40-year-old Hispanic male, was arrested on November 11 and charged with four counts of criminal mischief as a hate crime in connection with the spray painting of six swastikas in four locations across East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights on November 3.
Two swastikas were drawn on the facades of both the Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst branches of the Queens Library, and one was drawn on the doors of the Congregation Tifereth Israel and St. Joan of Arc Church in Jackson Heights.
A swastika was also drawn on the Jackson Heights Library on October 31, but police say Rodriguez, a resident of the neighborhood, is not being charged in connection to the incident.
“Our building has been vandalized numerous times in our long history, but the incidents seem to have been the work of teenage pranksters,” said Rabbi Ernest Mayerfeld, who has lived in Jackson Heights for over 50 years and has spent the last 12 years as Rabbi and spiritual leader with the Congregation Tifereth Israel of Jackson Heights.
“Included in our congregation are a number of Holocaust survivors who were reminded of their past, and spoke of their experiences to me. The basic reaction was, ‘Not again. Not in the U.S.’ My personal reaction was to be strong. We must react with dignity and strength and be unified with the overall community. I am glad the police apprehended the perpetrator.”
A rally in response to the vandalisms was held on November 4, during which elected officials and local leaders spoke out against the hate crimes and announced a $3,000 reward in connection to the capture of the criminal.
“I want to commend the NYPD for acting so swiftly and making an arrest in this case,” said Councilmember Daniel Dromm, who led the rally. “It is important that we send a strong message that these types of hate crimes will not be tolerated in our community.”
A protest was also held on November 9 outside of the Jackson Heights Library, where roughly 200 faculty members and students from the Rambam Mesivta High School rallied to denounce the defacements. Student representatives from the school presented the library with five copies of the Holocaust Chronicle, a 768 page history of the Holocaust.
The vandalisms shocked many in the Jackson Heights community, who have grown accustomed to acceptance and understanding from the residents of one of the world’s most diverse neighborhoods.
“The vandalism was horrible, but it was an aberration in our community,” said Bill Meehan, 68, a Jackson Heights resident and board member of the Jackson Heights-Elmhurst Kehillah, a Jewish organization. “Our community is dedicated to diversity and to living together in peace and respect for one another. What we saw was the community rise up and condemn it and demand that the perpetrator be found and arrested. I was very happy that the NYPD was able to find him so quickly and hopefully it is the right person.”