Nazi symbols were found on at least two pieces of artwork in downtown Ukiah earlier this month, actions that are being described as hate crimes by the Mendocino County Inland Jewish Community.
Neil Davis, program administrator for the city of Ukiah, said swastikas were first found drawn on one of the mosaic pieces by Elizabeth Raybee that were recently installed on city trash cans in the Alex R. Thomas Jr. plaza in the center of downtown.
“A family member of Raybee saw the swastikas on June 23, and immediately removed them,” said Davis, explaining that while there are multiple new mosaics, the piece defaced was the one called “Dia de los Muertos.”
Later that same week, artist Lauren Sinnott said swastikas were found on a small mural across the street from the large historical mural she is currently painting along one entire block of Church Street.
Sinnott’s mural was not defaced, but she said someone had used what appeared to be a red, permanent marker to draw a swastika on the forehead of the woman shown seated under the words “Racoon Lodge” in the mural painted on the side of the former Poma TV building at the corner of West Church Street and South School Street.
“And I removed it with rubbing alcohol,” said Sinnott, explaining that she had fortunately treated the mural previously with the graffiti-protection coating she used on her mural. “The last time we put coating on my mural, we offered to coat that mural as well, for free. And I think that was why it was so easy to remove the marker with rubbing alcohol.”
During the pandemic, the woman in the Raccoon Lodge mural had a mask painted over her mouth, and Sinnott said two “S’s”, which she said was the symbol for Schutzstaffel, described on Wikipedia as “a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party,” were painted on the mask. She removed those symbols, as well.
Davis said he reported the instances of graffiti to the Ukiah Police Department, which is what he recommends all community members do as soon as they see graffiti. However, the UPD did not learn of the Nazi symbols being painted on downtown artwork until a week later, on Wednesday afternoon.
“If you can, take a picture, and call the UPD non-emergency line (707-463-6262) to report the graffiti as soon as possible,” said Davis, explaining that the sooner graffiti can be removed, the better.
Davis said he did not know if the UPD would be considering the swastikas hate crimes. When the UPD was asked via phone and email whether the swastikas are being investigated as hate crimes, a representative said the city manager’s office would be handling media inquiries.
In a letter addressed to the Ukiah Police Department, Nancy Horowitz Bertsch, former president of Kol HaEmek, the Mendocino County Inland Jewish Community, and Sherrie Ebyam, the current president, wrote: “These acts of defilement are Hate Crimes. As leaders of our Jewish Community, we will not sit quietly and let this go by. We expect that the city of Ukiah Police Department will investigate, find, and hold accountable those responsible for these crimes.”
Shannon Riley, deputy city manager for the city of Ukiah, shared the letter she sent in response, which states:
“On behalf of the city of Ukiah, I am appalled and saddened by recent acts of graffiti swastikas and other Nazi-style symbols — on two different public art projects. These incidents were discovered and reported to various individuals, including to the two artists, and the vandalism was removed immediately. The Ukiah Police Department was not notified until Wednesday, June 30th, nearly seven days after the first case was discovered. Since that time, information including photographic evidence of the vandalism has been gathered and the detective division of UPD is investigating the incidents as a hate crime. Every effort is being taken to bring justice to the individual(s) responsible for this defilement of public art.
“The community can assist by reporting any information related to these incidents, as well as in-progress acts of graffiti or vandalism, to the UPD through its non-emergency line (707-463-6262). Additionally, existing graffiti can be reported through the use of the city’s mobile app, iWorQ, available on Apple or Android phones.”
(Courtesy, the Ukiah Daily Journal)