Hate crime at PAL field inspires community members to take action

Asher Charno, News Editor

On Oct. 11, twelve swastikas were found inside the PAL, Port Washington Police Athletic League’s clubhouse.  

There had been a series of break-ins over the summer, but no burglary or vandalism, according to Rob Elkins, Executive Director of the PAL.  Following these break-ins, the PAL increased the clubhouse’s protection with new doors and locks.  These were ripped off when the Oct. 11 break-in occurred.  The twelve swastikas were drawn on the front and back of the doors, on athletic equipment, a lawnmower, and various walls in the building.  

“I walked inside and saw this incredible vandalism and defacement of our property, literally spray painting over handmade thank you cards that our scholarship summer campers made for us this past summer,” Elkins said in an interview with the Port Washington News

 From Elkins’s perspective, the hate crime was in response to a previous crime that took place a few weeks earlier, when a white power and gang sign was spray painted on one of the light poles on the field. After contacting the police about that incident, he waited three weeks until he decided to take action and cover up the graffiti on the light pole himself.  

Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth and Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte, and State Senator Anna Kaplan all issued statements condemning the hate crimes perpetrated in the field. 

“We want to make sure that there is an investigation, and we get to the bottom of this,” said Senator Kaplan.

However, Port Washington Police Chief Robert DelMuro initially refused to treat this incident as a hate crime.  He pointed out that the swastikas were placed in the interior of the building and that the spray used to draw them was taken from the supplies in the building itself.  

After facing backlash for his initial position, he reversed his statement, issued a letter of apology, and classified the vandalism as a hate crime. 

Community members were frustrated with the police department’s perceived apathy towards this incident.  

“I’m disappointed by the lack of appropriate response to a hate crime that has happened in public space and makes Port’s Jewish community feel unsafe. I hope that there is more investigation into how this happened and prevention measures so it doesn’t happen again,” said junior Emily Benson-Tyler. 

However, theys were quick to respond with kindness.  Danielle Elkins, Class of 2017, and daughter of director Rob Elkins, set up a GoFundMe page to help with the cost of fixing the building and the destroyed equipment.  In less than 24 hours, she raised $13,000, and since then, she has surpassed her goal of $25,000. 

“After the event happened, we ran a GoFundMe campaign and those funds will be used for repairing, refreshing, and rebuilding.  We are immediately repairing the damage to the back wall, which was completed today.  We are installing a roll-up gate to cover the door that was broken into for increased security, and we want to have a unity event, but we are delaying that due to COVID, including community leaders and clergy and community members.  We are hoping to do education in the schools, and there are some other security measures we want to take that may include cameras and other security equipment. I’m also grateful for the outpouring support from our community to help clean it up and repair it,” said Robert Nachimson, PAL treasurer. 

Mr. Nachimson also hopes to be working with the school to create a presentation about the Holocaust and what happened at the field.  

When asked how he felt after discovering the vandalism, he said he was heartbroken and angry.  

“My mother escaped Nazi Germany as a young girl.  Swastikas are a very sensitive and painful sign for me.  It was even more upsetting to see it covering thank you signs made by kids in the summer program,” said Mr. Nachimson.

Schreiber’s chapter of the Art Honors Society plans to create a mural in response to this incident.  This project is being partially run by Robert Nachimson’s son, junior Sam Nachimson. 

“We haven’t confirmed yet, but the project will be a combination of collaborative and digital art, most likely in the form of a collage. It will show that everyone’s welcome to play here and highlight unity and acceptance.  It will be printed and hung over the backstop,” said Sam Nachimson. 

On a similar note, Jewish members of the community are feeling the pain of seeing this symbol on a town field.  Many feel unsafe and are dismayed by the police department’s response. 

The perpetrators have still not been caught, so the police department asks anyone with information to call the detective unit at 516-833-0500.