Graffiti left at a Muslim prayer center in East Central Spokane over the weekend has prompted calls for a federal hate crime investigation.
The message, “Death to Islam,” was spray-painted on the outside of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Heritage Association of Spokane on Saturday, as worshippers inside recited prayers for the holy month of Ramadan, according to a statement from the Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Arsalan Bukhari, the state group’s executive director, said the incident was reported to the Spokane Police Department, which had yet to assign a detective to the case as of Wednesday afternoon.
“We want to make sure things get worked on quickly,” Bukhari said, noting that future prayers are planned at the building, 2110 E. Broadway Ave., through July 17, when the month of fasting and prayer concludes for practicing Muslims.
The vandalism occurred about nine months after a Spokane synagogue was defaced with a swastika during observance of Yom Kippur in October. The community is also dealing with the fallout of a scandal involving Rachel Dolezal, the former leader of the local NAACP chapter whose claims of racist hate mail were questioned after it was revealed she’d lied about her ethnicity to officials in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.
Blaine Stum, chairman of the Spokane Human Rights Commission, condemned the graffiti. He said the Dolezal scandal might cause some skepticism in the community, but victims of hate crimes always are treated with some skepticism.
“A lot of times victims of hate crimes are very much questioned and kind of interrogated about the validity of it all,” he said.
Spokane police spokeswoman Teresa Fuller said Wednesday the report had been filed in the case but it has not yet been assigned to a detective. She said the allegations could be considered a hate crime and police would be assigning someone to the case.
Stum is expected to join Bukhari at a news conference today at the prayer center, calling for a federal investigation. It had been painted over Wednesday morning, but photos posted by Skyler Oberst, president of the Spokane Interfaith Council, showed the black letters scrawled on the side of the brick building.
Oberst said the graffiti is a reminder that local city leaders could be doing more to foster trust among faith communities in Spokane.
“If we’re not actively sharing in the joy and sorrows of our Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters, we’re really limiting our capacity for community-building,” Oberst said.
Ayesha Malik, a Pakistani-American who works with the Interfaith Council and is a practicing Muslim, said it was difficult keeping her anger from boiling over after hearing about the vandalism. She called the graffiti a “hate crime” that tested the tenets of the holy month, which preaches control of anger.
“This perpetrator, or these perpetrators, are actually helping me practice Islam,” Malik said. “I’m supposed to react to situations like this with kindness.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.