Between 6:30 and 10:30 p.m. Saturday, a vandal painted a swastika on the wall outside the Santa Fe home of a Jewish man.
Santa Fe police say they can’t classify the act as a hate crime until a suspect is located and interviewed. Right now, they consider this vandalism another act of graffiti.
Let’s get something straight. Painting a swastika in a public space is a hate crime, whatever the motivation. That it was painted on the wall where a Jewish man lives, a few days before the beginning of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is beyond troubling.
Victim Jeff Hornstein reported the desecration to both local police and the Anti-Defamation League. It is important these violations of public decency are tracked. Because when we keep track, we find out incidents of hate are increasing.
According to the FBI, New Mexico had 55 reported hate crimes in 2020. Between 2018 and 2019, the numbers rose from 28 reported incidents to 50, or 79 percent. Those are record-breaking numbers, the sort New Mexicans feel ashamed to see, with vitriol directed against immigrants, African Americans and Jewish residents of our state.
That the perpetrators often remain anonymous makes their actions even more appalling. We don’t know if the vandal is our neighbor, our friend, even a relative. They hide.
Considering the tenor of the times — with hateful speech infiltrating daily life — it is hardly surprising that New Mexico has, like others, become a place where ugliness colors our interactions with one another. That doesn’t make hate acceptable, however commonplace it is becoming. A swastika on the wall today can become physical harm to our neighbors tomorrow. This is the usual progression, seen over and over in other cities, other times.
Santa Fe is not perfect. Our common myth of a tricultural community, living in harmony, has been revealed as self-delusional. For one thing, we have many more than the three cultures of the myth here — Anglo, Native and Hispano remain, but other neighbors enrich our community.
Our city is home to many cultures — think of the Tibetan refugee community, the athletes from Africa training here, the descendants of Greek and Lebanese immigrants, new immigrants from Mexico, Black residents, Japanese, Chinese and so many other people representing cultures from around the nation and the globe.
All call Santa Fe home. All are locals. We don’t always get along, but we usually manage to respect our differences — with several notable exceptions over the past few years. It’s no wonder. Santa Fe is a place forged over centuries of cultures clashing, negotiating and eventually finding a way to coexist.
Together, we must denounce this act targeting a Jewish neighbor. Santa Fe — literally — is the city of holy faith, the translation of the city’s name into English. Faith, whether invested in God or in the goodness of each other, calls upon us to live as our best selves.
Hateful acts committed in darkness are the worst of humanity.
Hornstein, meanwhile, has decided to leave the swastika in place for a time. He is bearing witness. He wants to make sure, as he correctly put it, that “people understand these things happen.”
Not here. Not anymore.