Last week, yet another incidence of racist defacement turned out to be a hoax. It seems that in many of the more high-profile racist graffiti incidents either the perpetrator has not been found or has turned out to be someone wanting to draw attention to racism through the use of graphic and shocking vandalism.
The latest hoax incident, which had occurred at Eastern Michigan University over 13 months ago, was anti-black graffiti done by a black man. Following the discovery of the vandalism back then, protesters had marched through the streets of Ypsilanti, arms joined, chanting "No justice, no peace."
The hoaxer got exactly what he wanted, a lot of attention and a spike of fear in people.
In the 1980’s, New York City launched the The Clean Train Movement. The new policy was that no subway car left the depot if it was covered in graffiti.
It’s because the graffiti--both the hoax and the non-hoax kind-- garners such a reaction that it keeps happening. What if we took a different path upon discovery of this kind of racist graffiti? What if we painted over it swiftly and went on about our day?
In the 1980’s, New York City launched the The Clean Train Movement. The new policy was that no subway car left the depot if it was covered in graffiti. At the time, “taggers,” as graffiti artists call themselves, would spend entire nights covering whole subway cars in their colorful work. The payoff was seeing the car in action, running through their city. When the city cracked down on that, the graffiti ended. The incentive was gone. No one would see their graffiti except for the transit workers quickly painting over it.
We need to apply the same principle to random racist or anti-Semitic graffiti. If we mostly ignore it, and paint over it, the racist or hoaxer doesn’t get the satisfaction of our reaction. They don’t see us march through the streets or write hand-wringing Op-Eds about what is going wrong with our society. We take away the satisfaction of the crime.
As a Jew, of course it disturbs me when swastikas are painted on synagogues, as happened at a synagogue in Manhattan just last week, or other similar racist incidents. But I don’t draw the larger conclusion that New Yorkers are Nazis, or ok with Nazism. Similarly when graffiti mocking 9/11 turned up all over New York City a few years ago, it was clear it wasn’t representative of the city’s residents.
It’s important to not ratchet up the tension. If we could dial back the immediate reaction to words on a wall, we might find that it happens much less often. Let’s not give racists, or hoaxers, what they want.