Nick McAdam, Editor-in-Chief
On Sept. 19, WKTV reported vandalism at the Saint Louis Gonzaga Church of Utica. A statue of Jesus had been painted over with a red swastika.
Since then, the church has been working closely with the Utica Police Department on the investigation. According to Rev. Boutros El Hachem, the volunteers of the church have removed the symbol off of the statue, preserving its original image.
Utica Police Sgt. Michael Curley said the department has a list of possible suspects, but at the moment, cannot boil that list down accurately. Both the church and the UPD have been eyeing somebody in Rome who has a “history of vandalism and hate in the area.” Though this may be the case, Curley can’t confidently tie this individual to the recent crimes at the church.
Though an investigation has been launched, Hachem still feels frustrated about the incident but is thankful to those in the community who have helped the church recover.
“Why mess with a statue of Jesus?” Hachem said. “I’d like to think these individual(s) had psychological issues or just weren’t using their head. We will, however, pray for them. We will forgive them.”
The incident came days before another incident in the community involving a statue of Christopher Columbus was painted with the word “killer.” Though these incidents do not have the police department worried, according to Curley, the UPD is still going to keep eyes open in the community especially with the upcoming presidential election and Columbus Day on Oct. 12.
“We can certainly try to do a public relations campaign in the community to educate and achieve a level of unity,” Curley said. “But why do this when the people who know the harm that comes with hate already know about its harm? Are we going to actually reach the people we want to reach?”
The claim is backed by a 2003 report by Dr. Michael Shively from the National Institute of Justice, finding that although many outreach campaigns have been launched to prevent hate crimes, the lack of theory and research makes it near impossible to calculate the impact of them. In fact, the study concludes that most campaigns preach preexisting beliefs to local communities and, more often than not, do not reach members of the community who have the potential of enacting crimes of hate in the future.
The church, however, plans on more community outreach programs going forward while also adding more to the statue. According to Hachem, the church wants to turn messages of hate and turn them into beauty and positivity. The church will add flowers and other decorative materials around the statue of Jesus.
“We are a community, we simply have to come together,” Hachem said. “The thing is that we all want the same freedoms in life, but as a community, we will face these same problems. We need to have a conversation about how we can combine our collectivistic and individualistic identities and work together.”
Though working together may be the ultimate goal, the way of achieving unity and having these conversations in the first place presents a challenge with all of the distractions around the community. Shively also said hate crimes in the United States involving race, ethnicity and religions – specifically Judaism and Islam – have risen dramatically since the late 1990s. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported more than 7,000 incidents of hate crimes in 2017 which was a 17% increase from the year before, according to PolitiFact.