Two Days, 500 Tombstones Toppled At Jewish Cemetery. Police Say: Not “Necessarily” Bias Attack. (Or: What the hell?)

Over the course of about a week, 500 tombstones at a Jewish cemetery in New Brunswick, N.J., were unceremoniously toppled.  First, on January 1, seventeen tombstones were toppled.  Three nights later, to finish the job they started, about 75% of the remaining tombstones were desecrated.

Four teenagers have been identified and charged with “vandalism” and “mischief.” But, according to Sergeant Richard Rowe of the New Brunswick Police Department, the mere vandalism “does not indicate it’s a bias crime.” 

Really?  What planet is Sgt. Richard Rowe from?

It’s one thing to topple one or two tombstones — or even seventeen tombstones for that matter.  It’s a whole different ballgame when you destroy close to 500 hundred tombstones.  And, it’s even still yet a different ballgame when it takes you two days to do it.  At the very least, the sheer number of tombstones destroyed and the amount of time it took to do it underscores the calculated intent of those taking part in the crimes.

What other purpose or message or motivation was there in destroying that amount of tombstones other than to scare and intimidate the Jewish population?  And, it doesn’t matter whether the suspects were Jewish or not:  the law draws no racial or religious prerequisite for committing a hate crime.  The controlling factor is whether the totality of the circumstances indicate the primary or substantial motivation for the crime was the victim’s religion.  If the very fact of 500 desecrated tombstones is not enough to suggest that improper motivation, then I don’t know what is.

The police response that the desecration of the 500 tombstones is “not necessarily a bias attack” is simply ridiculous.  What law book did the New Brunswick Police Department pick up?  The Penal Law According To Hitler

Sure, the police have to do their full and complete investigation, but what the hell else would they need in their book to consider preliminarily that what has happened at Poile Zedek Cemetary to be anything other than a bias attack?  The paradigm of the investigation should start with the premise that what has occurred is a bias attack.  After all, they are police conducting what I would hope to be an open-minded investigation, not lawyers presenting a case at trial before a jury. 

You can’t help but ask why not more was done to protect the cemetary after the first attack, when seventeen tombstones were desecrated.  How could the suspects parade unabated to the same cemetery three nights later and unceremoniously destroy seventy-five percent of the cemetary’s tombstones?

It makes no sense.  And neither does the police response.

The police have arrested four teenagers who they said toppled nearly 500 tombstones at a Jewish cemetery in New Brunswick, N.J., on two separate nights of mischief. The police said, based on preliminary evidence, that the vandalism did not appear to be a bias attack.

“Based on the facts we have at hand, there’s nothing to indicate it’s a bias crime,” Sgt. Richard Rowe of the New Brunswick Police Department said on Thursday, adding that the investigation was continuing.“That’s not to say that won’t be changed, based on other information we uncover or if other arrests are made,” Sergeant Rowe said.  The four arrested youths — a 15-year-old, two 16-year-olds and a 17-year-old — were charged on Wednesday with juvenile delinquency. If charged as adults, they could have faced charges of desecration of venerated objects, conspiracy to commit desecration and criminal mischief. They are being held in the Middlesex County Juvenile Detention center awaiting an appearance in Middlesex County Family Court, Sergeant Rowe said.

The first of the two acts of desecration, which captured worldwide attention, occurred on the evening of Jan. 1, when three of the four New Brunswick teenagers went to the Poile Zedek Cemetery on Joyce Kilmer Avenue and knocked over 17 gravestones, the police said. Then, three nights later, they returned with a fourth youth and toppled more than three-quarters of the cemetery’s tombstones, some of which date back to the 1920s, and broke many of them.

While people in the Jewish community expressed relief at the apprehension of the suspects, some wondered if others were involved and continued to ask what motivated so much damage.  “It’s very hard to believe that four kids could have toppled all these gravestones,” said Rabbi David Bassous, whose Congregation Etz Ahaim of Highland Park, N.J., has about 200 members buried in the cemetery. “I have every confidence in the police and the prosecution and hope they uncover the whole picture and not just the tip of it.”

Rabbi Abraham Mykoff of Congregation Poile Zedek in New Brunswick said he took comfort in learning that it was the act of teenagers and not of an organized hate group. Nevertheless, he did question the suspects’ impulses.  “There is still a strong question of how they could do such a thing by themselves and what the motivation was if not hatred,” Rabbi Mykoff said. “Unfortunately certain individuals have no sensitivity for humanity.”

Since the news of the desecration broke, Rabbi Mykoff, whose congregation shares the cemetery, said he had received calls from news organizations in Paris and Jerusalem seeking comment, and from Jews across the country offering condolences.

Etzion Neuer, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he, too, had heard from strangers from around the country who called to share their stories of persecution or to offer assistance.  “This is an incident that has provoked a very strong reaction from the Jewish community worldwide,” Mr. Neuer said. And while he said his organization was “extraordinarily pleased” with the effort that law enforcement agencies had put into solving the crime, Mr. Neuer expressed concern that the final outcome might be wanting.

“What may ultimately be unsatisfying here is the penalty,” Mr. Neuer said. “Because it is juveniles, they may not face the full consequences of the law. They may be shielded from appropriate punishment.”

The quoted article was published by the New York Times and can be found here.