By Shirley Hawkins
CRENSHAW — Officers from the Southwest Community Police Station faced a crowd of approximately 300 at a town hall meeting held Dec. 7 at the Kaiser Conference Room where police delivered updates on the vandalism of a popular mural in the Crenshaw District.
Community outrage is still brewing over the vandalism of the mural, entitled “Our Mighty Contribution,” and many came to air their grievances and to hear the latest news on the investigation into an unknown suspect who spray-painted white swastikas on the faces of four Black Panther women.
The mural, located at 50th Street and Crenshaw Boulevard, has remained a cultural institution in the Crenshaw District for nearly 20 years and depicts African-American heroes. The defacement, which occurred Nov. 29, prompted police officers to swarm the mural seeking clues to the perpetrator.
With a climate of conservatism and hate crimes continuing to rise in the nation, swastikas have re-emerged to be embraced by hate groups and anti-Semitics. A symbol of the Nazi Party in Germany during Adolf Hitler’s regime that quickly became popular in World War II, the swastika represented Nazi terrorism and Aryan pride and rose to become the symbol associated with racism and antisemitism against Jews and other minorities. Several synagogues and universities in Southern California have recently been spray-painted with swastikas and the symbol is still used as an emblem of fear and terror, officials said.
“We have had 35 hate crimes this year in Los Angeles alone,” said LAPD Detective Commanding Officer Perry Griffith, who added that hate crimes against minorities have gone up 19 percent.
Dale Bonner, the newest member of the Los Angeles Police Commission, observed that finding the suspect has proven to be particularly difficult due to unforeseen circumstances.
“This incident happened in the middle of the night and it was done in the rain. It’s a ‘who done it,’” he said. “We’re going to find the perpetrator and we are using our best efforts to do so. We will stay fully engaged — not only with this incident, but we will try to avoid this incident from happening in the future.”
Detective Anthony Kong, who leads the investigation, said that when the defacement of the mural was discovered, “We knocked on doors. We know that the crime occurred between 8 p. m. on Nov. 28 and 8 a.m. on Nov. 29. We looked at video footage seeking the suspect.
“There are some things that I am privy to that but cannot disclose,” Kong said. Surveying the crowd, he said, “If there are any eyewitnesses to the crime, I would like that information.”
Capt. Lee Sands, commanding officer of the Southwest Division, said, “We will not tolerate this defacement and we will continue to look for the individual or individuals who are responsible.”
Enkone, the artist who spearheaded the drawing of the mural more than 18 years ago and quickly restored the mural to its original condition with the help of a cleanup crew, said he was inspired to paint a tribute to the Black Panthers because they were fearless revolutionaries.
“The Black Panthers were not against white people,” he said. “They were against tyranny from people outside our community who wanted to wreak havoc and harm on our community,” said the artist, whose painting renders images of Black Panther Kathleen Cleaver and three female members of the New York 21.
Remus Muhammad felt that the swastikas appeared to be a threat to the last neighborhood stronghold for African Americans.
“There are not a lot of places left like Leimert Park, Baldwin Hills and Ladera Heights where black people live,” he said, adding that the gentrification of former black neighborhoods was encroaching at a steady pace. “We as a people are holding on as best we can, but we must have a zero tolerance policy to hate.”
An audience member known as “Cali” stood and said he felt that the swastika investigation was moving too slowly. “If this same incident happened in Beverly Hills, I think they would have caught the guy already,” he said. “You can put GPS on Google maps on the location and there are cameras up and down the street. If a murder had happened, you would have already caught the guy.”
Audience member Rochelle Trent expressed her fear over the meaning of swastikas being sprayed on Crenshaw Boulevard.
“I can’t get into the mind of the individual, but I believe they are trying to start a race war,” she said. “But we are a powerful people and we’re not going to let someone deface our art work and our culture. We need to stand united to say no to hatred against race, sexual orientation and religion.”
Ben Caldwell, founder of the KAOS Network and a longtime artist in Leimert Park, said, “It just makes you mad. The beauty is that the swastikas were erased instantly and we can go about the job of being our African selves.”
Ashley Thomas, communications director Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson who was unable to attend, said, “We believe that the hate crime was a targeted act to enact fear and violence.”
Thirteen-year-old Jeffrey Everett, who is the student body president at John Burroughs Middle School, strolled to the front of the meeting.
“We need to stand united as a front when it comes to what happened at the Crenshaw wall,” he said.
Everett said it was terrible that some African Americans were pointing fingers at each other for possibly spray painting the swastikas.
“If this had happened at a Jewish temple, the Jewish people would not be blaming each other,” he said.
Other audience members expressed concern over the growing number of white supremacist groups that were emerging across the country. Some theorized that supremacists could have secretly spray painted the swastikas on the mural.
“There’s the Proud Boys, the Red Elephants and the Oath Keepers,” said one audience member, who added that members of the right-wing groups could be identified by their distinctive tattoos. “We will not tolerate groups that perpetuate hate.”
Audience member Kalifah Bey agreed.
“I’m on the alert for white supremacists,” she said. “This is about self-protection.”
Bey said she was a supporter of the second amendment that gives citizens the right to bear arms.
She then referred to the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militia group that attempted to rally against U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters during the summer. Even though the rally was canceled, two members of the Oath Keepers pulled up in a pickup truck at Waters’ office in Watts with an American flag. The flag was quickly grabbed by Waters supporters before the two men drove off.
“These terrorists tried to roll up on Maxine Waters at her headquarters in Watts, but they’re not going to roll up on Crenshaw,” Bey said.
Police the urged the public to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477 if they had any information on the swastika incident.