Antisemitic graffiti covers S.F. elementary school playground

A playground labyrinth meant to encourage quiet introspection for elementary school students was defaced with antisemitic graffiti in San Francisco in late July.

The San Francisco Police Department said it is investigating the incident, which occurred at Commodore Sloat Elementary School on the corner of Ocean Avenue and Junipero Serra Boulevard. Police couldn’t specify when the graffiti was first spotted, only that it “was seen sometime between July 28-July 31,” Officer Robert Rueca said in an email to J. on Wednesday.

A photo that was posted to Nextdoor shows antisemitic graffiti in the center of the playground labyrinth at Commodore Sloat Elementary School in San Francisco.
A photo that was posted to Nextdoor shows antisemitic graffiti in the center of the playground labyrinth at Commodore Sloat Elementary School in San Francisco.

“We walked around the school and found things everywhere,” said Cristine Egami, a parent who learned about the graffiti from friends over the weekend and went to the school Sunday to help clean it up.

She was told that her friend and her friend’s third-grader were some of the first to witness the hateful markings. They tried to scrub them away “with gravel and water,” Egami said, but that didn’t work, so Egami and her partner went to a nearby store, bought graffiti removal chemicals and removed the tags themselves.

Swastikas and illegible writing littered the playground — there were about 20 or more tags, Egami said. She was particularly disturbed to find a clearly written message in the middle of the playground’s distinctive “sun labyrinth,” a walkable maze with a large yellow sun in the center.

The message said “f— Jews,” next to a Star of David with an “X” through it.

“It was this big horrible message in the middle of the sun,” said Egami, a mother of three with a third-grader at Sloat. “It’s where our school has a morning circle before school even starts. We meet up and have announcements and do some fun activities.”

Egami, a member of a summertime parent committee responsible for watering the trees in the yard, said she saw “at least nine different things on the lower yard, on the play structure,” tags on all of the mini basketball hoops and tags on the Little Free Library book exchange, including on one of the books inside the structure. There were also swastikas on the inside of the tunnel slide.

The incident happened less than three weeks before the new school year starts Aug. 16. Sloat Elementary, which has about 400 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, is part of the San Francisco Unified School District.

It marks another outburst of antisemitic graffiti in the Bay Area in recent months. In mid-June, the exterior of a synagogue in Foster City was defaced with a swastika and a mysterious message, and earlier that month the Nazi symbol was discovered spray-painted on the pavement outside an elementary school in San Anselmo.

Meanwhile, blatant and vitriolic antisemitic flyers continue to be distributed in cities and towns across California. Those campaigns are linked to the neo-Nazi group Goyim TV, also referred to as the Goyim Defense League, which J. has reported on extensively.

It was this big horrible message in the middle of the sun. It’s where our school has a morning circle before school even starts.

While flyer drops usually are not prosecutable as hate crimes, acts of vandalism are. Police said they had made no arrest related to Sloat Elementary as of Wednesday.

The Anti-Defamation League told J. it plans to offer its services to the school. The ADL often conducts trainings or schoolwide programs after antisemitic incidents.

Sloat Principal Fowzigiah Abdolcader did not immediately respond to an email from J.

“This antisemitic act of vandalism is especially disturbing for being scrawled so brazenly on an elementary school yard,” ADL interim regional director Teresa Drenick said in an email to J. “ADL will offer our support and resources to Sloat administrators and confirm that San Francisco Police is investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.”

The U.S., including the San Francisco Bay Area, has faced “record numbers of antisemitic incidents,” Drenick added. “It is more important than ever that community leaders and residents unite to counter this rising wave of hate.”

Hate crimes targeting Jews in California have risen significantly over the past decade, according to data from the state Attorney General’s Office. A record 189 anti-Jewish hate crime “events” (which can involve multiple crimes) were reported in the state in 2022. That compares with 70 such events reported in 2013.

Jews are the most frequently targeted religious group in California by a wide margin, the data shows. The most common type of hate crime in California last year targeted Black people, followed by anti-gay incidents targeting men.

Overall, there were 2,120 hate crime events reported in the state last year, compared with 863 in 2013.

While district attorneys and attorneys general, particularly in liberal-leaning cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, have loudly championed combating hate crimes, the rate of conviction is low. The state’s report noted 53 hate crime convictions last year.

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