The Boise Police Department is treating repeat vandalism at the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial as a hate crime for now, Chief Bill Bones said Thursday after his agency reported another incident at the site.
“There’s an obligation to call this what it is. It’s a cowardly act. It’s a criminal act,” Bones said Thursday. “The words that they wrote are obviously attacks against people that live in this community simply based on the religion they practice or the color of their skin.”
Shortly before 1 a.m., officers learned of writing left in permanent marker on a sign dedicated to Bill Wassmuth, a former Coeur d’Alene priest who battled hate groups in northern Idaho and is the namesake of the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights next to the memorial. Wassmuth died in 2002.
More offensive writing was found in a nearby Greenbelt tunnel. Police said the writing was similar to earlier vandalism this week: Racist and anti-Semitic slurs were found Tuesday on two different tablets at the memorial.
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Boise Police Chief Bill Bones wouldn’t say if his investigators have any leads or suspects, but he asked anyone with information to contact authorities through any means they can. If you know anything that could help the investigation, call 208-343-COPS; submit a tip through 343COPS.com; or use the P3 tips app available for iOS or Android.
The incidents have drawn broad, widespread condemnation from Boise residents, and that continued Thursday. Mayor David Bieter said the slurs do not reflect Boisean values.
“No cowardly action by vandals can damage the spirit of the memorial or the welcoming nature of our city and its residents,” Bieter said. “But, rest assured, our officers will work diligently to find out who is responsible and ensure they have their day in court.”
The Wassmuth Center was still reeling from the earlier tagging containing language that was “so foul, so vile” against Boise’s Jewish community and people of color, said Dan Prinzing, the center’s executive director. But the outpouring of support from community members, government officials and donors is turning a bad week into a good one, he said.
Cleaning up Tuesday’s vandalism caused further damage to the tablets, and the center is now raising money to replace them.
Two individual donors came to the center’s office and each donated $20,000 on Thursday. In addition, the center had raised more than $2,600 from online donors by Thursday afternoon. A separate group holding its own online fundraiser was up to more than $6,400.
“We are being told, ‘Yes. Repair. Yes. Replace.’ But also: ‘Enhance. Build more.’ It’s been an overwhelming response,” Prinzing said.
The center is also reexamining its previous opposition to enhanced security at the memorial. Until now, Prinzing and others have opposed installing cameras or other measures, saying it would be out-of-step with a tribute to human rights. Now, Prinzing said he’s “having a discussion” about increasing security.
“We have to recognize we are living in a time where incivility has been emboldened,” he said.
Boise has seen other racist vandalism in recent months. In December, a racist slur was written in the snow on the roof of a storage shed at the Black History Museum. Two months earlier, a Black Lives Matter homecoming float created by a Boise State University student group for the homecoming parade was damaged by vandals. The students of the Afro-Black Student Alliance repaired the float and participated in the parade.
The New York City-based Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect announced Thursday that it will send a team to Boise in response to the incidents. The small center has been involved in the Boise Jewish community since 1995, Prinzing said; The Atlantic recently reported it has gone through an overhaul that included losing an advisory board of Holocaust experts, and noted the new leadership has gotten recent attention for its sharp criticism of the Trump administration.
The group plans to send several staffers and actors to Boise to perform “Letters from Anne and Martin,” a play featuring writings from Anne Frank and Martin Luther King, Jr., on May 24, Prinzing said. The venue is not yet set.
The Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial was named for Anne Frank, a Jewish girl forced into hiding in Holland during the Holocaust. Frank died of typhus in early 1945 at Bergen-Belsen, a Nazi concentration camp.
The memorial in Boise was dedicated in 2002 after a fundraising effort that took in money from a broad array of donors, including schoolchildren and well-known philanthropists. Nothing like this has happened to it before: In 2007, a statue of Anne Frank fell over, but it’s not clear if that was caused by vandals or faulty construction.
Bones said the memorial is the last place the police department takes officer recruits before they go into field training. Each academy class attends a ceremony there. Community leaders address them before Bones himself talks “about what I believe it means to be a Boise police officer.”
“To say what it means to stand up, not just for the civil rights of our citizens, but to stand up for their human rights,” Bones said. “It sets the tone for the philosophy of who we are, and so an attack on the Anne Frank (memorial) I really consider an attack on the Boise Police Department.”
The Statesman’s Nate Poppino contributed.