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Cemetery vandalism in St. Louis wasn’t hate crime

Workers place headstones back on their bases on Feb. 21, 2017 at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in St. Louis. (James Griesedieck/St. Louis Jewish Light)

Workers place headstones back on their bases on Feb. 21, 2017 at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in St. Louis. (James Griesedieck/St. Louis Jewish Light)

ST. LOUIS — A man from suburban St. Louis has been arrested for toppling more than 100 headstones at a local Jewish cemetery more than a year ago.

Alzado Harris, 34, was arrested on April 24 after police matched DNA found in a jacket left at the scene of the February, 2017 vandalism to Harris, who has a prior criminal history. After his arrest at his home, Harris admitted to the vandalism at the Chesed Shel Emeth Jewish cemetery, the St. Louis Dispatch reported.

Harris faces up to seven years in prison on the charge of one count of institutional vandalism. He is not charged with a bias or hate crime.

“There is no evidence to indicate the incident was racially, ethnically or religiously motivated,” University City police said in a statement. According to the police statement, Harris said that “he acted alone, was angry over a personal matter and was under the influence of drugs when he committed the offense.”

“We are very pleased that the vandal has been caught and has been charged,” Anita Feigenbaum, executive director of Chesed Shel Emeth Society, told the St. Louis Jewish Light.

The attack came as Jewish community centers and other Jewish institutions around the country were receiving dozens of bomb threats. St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said during a news conference on April 25 that the crime “was not good timing on his (Harris’) part,” but that the fact that the cemetery Harris vandalized was Jewish seems to be coincidental.

In March, 2017 an Israeli teen was arrested for the bomb threat hoaxes against the JCCs.

In the wake of the attack, Missouri’s Jewish governor, Eric Greitens, volunteered with members of his staff to help clean and repair the damage to the cemetery, and Vice President Mike Pence visited the cemetery, picking up a rake to help with cleanup efforts.

Two Muslim activists, Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi, launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $20,000 for repairs, which ultimately raised over $162,000.

The ADL said last week in a statement: “While it won’t be prosecuted as a hate crime, there is no question that at the time it certainly felt hateful to the Jewish community, both in St. Louis and far beyond.”

The ADL praised the “community building and interfaith expressions of support” that followed the vandalism.

The cemetery was repaired and rededicated in August.

On Aril 25, the Chesed Shel Emeth Society, which runs the cemetery, in a post on Facebook thanked the University City Police “for handling our case with care and attention.”



JTA

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