This elevator in the Art and Behavioral Science Building is one of El Camino College's older ones, said EC Chief of Police Michael Trevis. It does not have any cameras so police do not have any leads on the perpetrator behind the vandalism. March 22. Photo credit: Fernando Haro

Swastika discovered inside Art Building elevator

March 22, 2019

A swastika drawn with black marker was discovered inside an elevator car in the Art and Behavioral Science Building at El Camino College on Tuesday, Feb. 26, authorities said.

Police do not have a suspect since the elevator is one of the older ones on campus and does not have any security cameras, EC Chief of Police Michael Trevis said.

“Personally, I think it was despicable,” Trevis said. “I think it was totally disrespectful and it is not tolerated.”

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A student stands inside the old, wooden elevator on Thursday, March 21. Authorities said the swastika drawn in the elevator did not meet the legal criteria of a hate crime. Photo credit: Fernando Haro

According to the State of California Department of Justice, this is classified as vandalism because there has to be written or verbal comments that show prejudice. A perpetrator has to target a specific victim based of religion or gender for words or actions to be considered a hate crime.

“I feel scared and I feel angry,” Ariella Filishtiner, a psychology major, said. “I think that it should be considered a hate crime because it’s instilling fear in people.”

Filishtiner, who is Jewish, said the incident not being considered a hate crime allows people to express themselves in ways that can create more harm than good.

EC is among a list of Southern California schools whose campuses have been vandalized with anti-Semitic symbols, like how the California State University of Northridge (CSUN) discovered swastikas and racist messages written across their campus last semester, according to the Los Angeles Times.

A symbol steeped in white supremacy

The swastika is a long-time reference to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime central beliefs of white supremacy.

On Feb. 26, 1935, Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich created an aerial warfare branch, known as the Luftwaffe, which violated the Treaty of Versailles, according to History. The document is noted to have officially ended World War I, which ended the state of war between the Allied Powers and Germany.

On the same day, 84 years later, a swastika was scrawled inside the old, wooden-lined EC elevator.

Prior to the Nazi regime, the swastika was not associated with evil. The word is derived from Sanskrit (svastika), which means “good fortune” or “well-being,” according to the Holocaust Encyclopedia.

But Hitler believed the symbol was a representation of Aryan identity and made it the impetus of Nazi ideology, according to the Holocaust Encyclopedia.

A far-reaching relevance

Hitler’s swastika continues to influence incidents of vandalism and violence to this day.

Back in 2015, Christopher Harper-Mercer, who had white supremacist ties, opened fire inside a classroom at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Prior to opening fire on classmates, Harper-Mercer reportedly asked them their religion and proceeded to shoot them, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Only three years earlier, Harper-Mercer was a student at EC. Begging the question: What if?

Swastikas were reportedly etched into the gun magazines Nikolas Cruz used to kill seventeen in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last year, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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A truck from Facilities Planning and Services drives past the Art and Behavioral Science Building on Friday, March 22. Facilities are responsible for removing the graffiti on campus. Photo credit: Fernando Haro

Student Reaction

Filishtiner said the there is no justification for the drawing of the swastika at EC; it makes her feel hurt and scared because of incidents like mass shootings.

“And although I do support free speech, I think hate crimes don’t fall under the category,” Filishtiner said. “There is a fine line between the two.”

Zachary Aquino, an English major, said he considers this a hate crime and feels uneasy that someone with an outdated, dangerous belief could be on campus.

“I think it should be [a hate crime], it’s very one-sided,” Aquino said. “They obviously have a thing against Jewish people, otherwise they wouldn’t have vandalized it onto the elevator.”

The vandalism comes at a time where anti-Semitism is increasing across the United States, including a 37 percent increase against in hate crimes against Jews in 2017, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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A student waits for the formerly-vandalized elevator in the Art and Behavioral Science Building on Thursday, March 21. Despite a sign that reads, "Elevator for Disabled Person and Staff Use Only," several individuals who do not meet the criteria continue to use it. Photo credit: Fernando Haro

EC police response looking forward

Trevis said that while there is not a lot of evidence, he would want to apprehend the person who drew the swastika at EC.

Trevis said that there are discussions to install a security camera inside the affected elevator but worries that individuals may take advantage of the current lack of security.

“There are copy cats out there and I worry about that,” Trevis said. “They read the articles, they watch the news and they think of a better way of doing something.”

Trevis added that he believes students would not draw something so offensive because of EC’s diverse environment.

“Everyone gets along so well and something like this just hurts everybody in my opinion,” Trevis said. “I would be very, very disappointed to learn that was done by a student here.”

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