A vandal arrested on Friday for scrawling graffiti on a Brooklyn synagogue and setting fires outside of several other Jewish institutions in New York has been identified as a campaign worker for President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential run.On Friday, New York police apprehended a man they suspect was responsible for vandalizing a synagogue in Brooklyn and setting fires outside of several other synagogues and a number of yeshivas in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, several days after a gunman killed 11 and wounded 6 at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Fires were set at a total of seven locations in South Williamsburg, police said Friday, targeting “yeshivas and synagogues in the predominantly Hasidic community.”
“Earlier this morning, NYPD’s 90th Precinct received reports of fires at seven different locations throughout South Williamsburg. The perpetrator set fires at local yeshivas and synagogues in the predominantly Hasidic community. The crimes are being investigated by the Hate Crime Task Force and Fire Marshals,” the NYPD said in a statement.
The suspect is also suspected of writing “Kill the Jews”, “Die Jew Rats, We Are Here,” and “Jews better be ready,” at Brooklyn’s Union Temple. The graffiti forced the cancellation of a political event which was to have been hosted by “Broad City” star Ilana Galzer.
On Sunday, the suspect was identified as 26-year-old James Polite. According to a profile of Polite by The New York Times last December, the suspect did volunteer work for the 2008 Obama presidential campaign, “registering voters and canvassing neighborhoods in New York City.”
Polite has reportedly been sent to the psychiatric ward at Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn.
Former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, for whom Polite had interned, suggested his anti-Semitic behavior was the result of mental illness, noting that he had been raised in foster homes and had been homeless for a period of time.
“I am simply and utterly devastated,” tweeted Quinn.
“Devastated for the Union Temple community and the violation they have experienced due to a vile expression of bigotry and anti-Semitism. It’s indefensible. The level of hatred and intolerance that has been rising in this country over the last several years is something every single American should be concerned about and should stand up against. And this is no different.”
“I know this young man, and along with many others in the New York City Council and social services agencies throughout the City, have done everything I could over the years to help him as he grew up in and out of the foster system, in and out of the mental health system, and in and out of homelessness. The actions he is accused of break my heart and devastate all of us who tried to help him get on solid footing over the years.”
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