Sunday, January 25, 2009

Police seek leads in hate crimes


$20,000 reward offered for arrests in vandalism of synagogues and schools

At a Martin Luther King Day press conference, the Anti-Defamation League of Chicago and the Jewish Federation announced a $20,000 reward for information leading to arrests in hate crimes in West Ridge and Lake View. Standing with representatives from the Chicago police and the Commission on Human Relations at the commission's office at 740 N. Sedgewick, local Jewish leaders offered the reward for leads in the throwing of a Molotov cocktail at Temple Sholom in Lake View last month and spray-painting and brick throwing this month at two synagogues and two high schools in West Ridge.

On Dec. 29, a witness reported seeing someone throwing a Molotov cocktail from a car and shouting an ethnic slur at a passerby at Temple Sholom at 3840 N. Lake Shore Dr. around 2 a.m., according to a Chicago Police Department spokesman.

Shortly after midnight on Jan. 10, 24th District police discovered the words "Death to Israel" spray-painted on a sign in front of Hanna Sachs Bais Yaakov High School, an Orthodox girls' school at 3201 W. Devon.

Three more acts of vandalism and anti-Israel graffiti were also reported that same morning at Anshe Motele Congregation at 6520 N. California, Lubavitch Boys High School at 2756 W. Morse, and the Congregation of Young Israel of West Rogers Park, at 2706 W. Touhy.

Orange spray paint was used in each incident where anti-Israel graffiti was reported. All instances are being investigated as hate crimes by the Chicago Police Department's Area 3 detective division's hate crime unit at Belmont and Western.

At Lubavitch and Young Israel, bricks were thrown through the glass doors and windows. The incidents all occurred in West Ridge, where many of the neighborhood's Orthodox Jews reside.

The Lincolnwood Jewish Congregation in suburban Lincolnwood just outside the Chicago city limits also reported its glass windows and doors shattered by two men in ski masks early Saturday morning.

Jenna Benn, assistant director of the Anti-Defamation League of Chicago, said the five incidents may be related to increased tensions in Gaza between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. She reported a similar trend in assaults against Jews and sacred places of worship in 2006 during Israel's war with Lebanon.

"Assaults against Jews and communities locally and worldwide are on the rise," Benn said. "In Europe, Jews have been threatened and beaten on the streets and synagogues have been fire-bombed."

Benn denounced the hate crimes, adding that "the intention of the reward fund is to provide law enforcement with the necessary leads to bring the perpetrators to justice in the five incidents that appear to be linked."

Area 3 Deputy Chief of Patrol Bruce Rottner said Chicago police are working with the FBI to investigate and monitor the incidents that occurred in the 24th Police District that covers Rogers Park and part of Edgewater.

"We're re-canvassing all these areas in Rogers Park where these crimes occurred," Rottner said. "We know there is someone out there who saw something or heard something who hasn't come forward yet."

Police still haven't determined if the Temple Sholom incident is related to the defacement of synagogues and schools in West Ridge.

"All are being investigated together by the detective division and our hate crime unit," Rottner added. "We're leaving no stone unturned."

Rottner would not comment on surveillance video that was said to capture one of the West Ridge incidents or the number of individuals that police are seeking to question about the crimes. According to 24th district police reports, a security camera at Lubavitch High School revealed three males - two wearing ski masks and a third acting as a lookout - throwing an object at the school's door.

"There was surveillance video. I'm not going to comment any further," the deputy chief said. "We're looking for several people. [The video] captures part of the incident taking place."

Benn said that the Anti-Defamation League's special investigator who monitors anti-Semitic incidents locally and internationally has been in constant touch with Area 3's hate crime unit. Until Monday, she was unaware that more than one person may be involved in defacing the West Ridge synagogues and schools.

Since the Jan. 10 vandalism, Jewish synagogues, schools and other institutions in Rogers Park have been placed on a special watch.

Meanwhile, Chicago police and the FBI will continue to work with the public to generate intelligence and alleviate fears and tension in both neighborhoods.

"We have strategies in place that I obviously can't share," he said. "Interestingly enough in two of [the West Ridge] incidents, two were discovered by police. We were proactive."

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