A Coeur d’Alene man of Middle Eastern descent left his pickup parked downtown Thursday night and returned to find it spray-painted with swastikas and a racial slur and a front tire slashed.
The Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations counts the incident as the seventh hate crime perpetrated in the Inland Northwest since May, co-founder Tony Stewart said Friday.
Haitham Joudeh, 33, who is a Muslim of Jordanian descent, was celebrating a friend’s birthday Thursday and left his black Ford F350 truck parked at the corner of Third Street and Coeur d’Alene Avenue. Friends drove Joudeh and his wife home around midnight, he said.
In the morning, he was notified by police that his truck had been vandalized. Two swastikas were painted on it along with a slur urging him to “go home.”
“I was born in this state. This is my home. What are they talking about?” said Joudeh, a University of Idaho graduate. “It makes me feel like I don’t belong in this place. It makes me fear for my life and my family’s life. I mean, what’s next? They’re going to come to my house? Seriously, what’s going to be next?”
Someone already has been to his house, where Joudeh lives with his wife and baby son. On Friday morning, Joudeh found a racist flier from the Aryan Nations in a plastic baggie on his lawn. The flier was similar to those distributed in several other Inland Northwest neighborhoods in recent months.
Stewart said the vandalism of Joudeh’s vehicle qualifies as a hate crime. It is the most recent in a spate of hate crimes, he said. In other incidents, a noose was left on a Spokane doorstep; a swastika sticker was affixed to the door of a Coeur d’Alene human rights center; and Hispanic, African-American and Native American people were targeted in several harassment and assault cases.
“There is an escalation,” Stewart said. “We don’t know who’s doing it. My suspicion is, from some of the profiles … it seems to be more than one group involved.”
Stewart said the task force will do everything within its power to help Joudeh’s family. “In all these cases,” Stewart said, “if you can find the people, you prosecute them for a felony and you send them to prison. This community won’t turn a blind eye.”
Coeur d’Alene police said they are investigating the incident as a hate crime.
Idaho’s malicious harassment law makes it a felony to deface personal property with “any word or symbol commonly associated with racial, religious or ethnic terrorism.”
Joudeh, a developer, said he has faced harassment since he filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Kootenai County, alleging improper denial of a project he had proposed at Mica Bay. Joudeh’s company, Jordan International, proposed a condominium storage unit facility on 10 acres just off U.S. Highway 95. The case is pending in 1st District Court.
Joudeh said his ethnicity was raised, in a negative light, by people opposed to the project during the first hearing.
“Nothing was done or said about it,” Joudeh said.
Since he filed his lawsuit, he said, he has been the subject of racist e-mails and Internet blog posts regarding his proposed project.
A tort claim filed against the county as a precursor to the lawsuit alleged that the project was denied partly because of racism.
Kootenai County commissioners deny that race was any factor.
Board Chairman Rick Currie said that accusation is an “embarrassment to the residents of our county.” Commissioner Todd Tondee said decisions are not made based on race; they’re made based on the project.
Currie also expressed anger toward whomever targeted Joudeh in the vandalism incident.
“That is absolutely unacceptable,” he said. “There is no place in this country for that type of action. It is something we cannot tolerate.”