Hate literature spurs vigilance in community
Offensive literature left on cars in Squirrel Hill
A Squirrel Hill resident who discovered offensive literature on her car’s windshield is disappointed in the response of local authorities. The homeowner, who requested anonymity, said that the police and FBI have taken a “cavalier” attitude toward an incident that deserves more attention.
Last week, residents of the 6200 block of Monitor Street found what was described as a “calling card” or “sticker” on the windshield of their street-parked vehicles. On one side, the item depicts a sketched hand grasping a noose above the words “It’s not illegal to be White … yet”; on the other side, it portrays a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman standing before a swastika.
“On Sunday night [Sept. 3], when we had a chance, we went over to Police Station Zone 4. We went in and wanted to report a hate crime. I told them we found a Nazi sticker on the windshield of our car.”
The resident continued that the police identified, by name, the individual that they suspected of placing the material.
“They told me, ‘He just randomly does this on cars from East Liberty to Greenfield. It’s freedom of speech, and we can’t really target this as a hate crime because he doesn’t know you’re Jewish.’
“The police compared it to a pizza flier, being placed on my windshield,” the resident said. “I don’t think a swastika should be equated to a pizza flier. I expect our authorities to do better than that.
“There was something unsettling about it, and they kept saying it was freedom of speech and they couldn’t do much [so] I decided to call the FBI because I am not comfortable with the Pittsburgh Police’s attitude that this is the town drunk and just go home. I’m hoping that they are doing more than just brushing it off.”
Sonya Toler, a spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh Police, said that the police received a complaint on Tuesday, Sept. 5 from a resident of the 5600 block of Beacon Street who had discovered similar literature. “A neighbor stated that they had also received the same business card along with a tri-fold paper pamphlet but had destroyed the items,” she said. “Investigators will share the information with the appropriate federal entity.”
Several media outlets have noted the recent dissemination of white supremacist propaganda in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood. The Tribune-Review and its news partner, WPXI-TV, reported that “at least two people on Beacon Street” received “business cards bearing swastikas in their mailboxes.” The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said that the FBI is “aware of neo-Nazi and white supremacist literature that has been distributed over the past several weeks in Squirrel Hill, a hub of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.” The items, which include stickers and business cards, have been found on “park benches, playground slides and car windshields,” according to the paper.
“When we heard that this was found, we of course were saddened and abhorred that such material was in our public space,” said Marianne Lien, executive director of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition. “I know that the board agrees with me; we unequivocally denounce hate and the ideology that goes along with it.”
In response to the recent discovery of hateful materials within Squirrel Hill, area residents have collaborated on a “block watch,” where various “block captains” from designated streets serve as the “eyes and ears” of neighbors and local law enforcement, said Lien. It is by remaining vigilant, and by not becoming vigilantes, that local residents can best help, she added.
“We have a strong, active community who will stand up against this kind of behavior. We all condemn this,” said Councilman Corey O’Connor.
“We want people to feel comfortable,” agreed Brad Orsini, director of Jewish community security at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. “We want people to go about their day-to-day business. We don’t want one piece of hate mail, hate stickers or hate rhetoric to change what they’re doing throughout their day. We just want everybody to report it.”
Prior to joining the Federation in January, Orsini spent nearly 30 years at the FBI. Reflecting upon his experience, he drew a distinction for residents to bear in mind.
“I think it’s very important for people to understand there is a difference between hate speech and hate crimes,” he said. “So, while on the face of these things, people are permitted to express their opinions and views, we need to remain vigilant on identifying people who spread hate and could possibly evolve into [committing] a hate crime.”
But for the Squirrel Hill resident who followed such recommendations, she questioned whether more is occurring behind the scenes. Perhaps “this cavalier attitude and free speech cover is just some kind of way that they handle this investigation to deflect from the perpetrators.”
“Every time this is publicized, we are getting more and more intelligence,” said Orsini.
“If you’re a resident and you see anything suspicious in the neighborhood, please contact the authorities as soon as possible,” urged O’Connor.
“Report it to the police,” agreed Orsini. “Report it to me. For us, it’s really important that when people see this, they identify it as soon as possible.” pjc
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.