On Friday afternoon, police in New York arrested 26-year-old James Polite, a Brooklyn man accused of vandalizing a synagogue with anti-Semitic graffiti. Questions are swirling about Polite, and many people on social media are wondering whether he is the same James Polite who was profiled by the New York Times back in 2017. The young man in that profile, who self-identified as “queer,” grew up in the foster care system and grew up to volunteer for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, registering voters and canvassing in Brooklyn. He eventually found work with Christine Quinn while she was the City Council Speaker. He also worked on Quinn’s unsuccessful campaign for mayor of New York in 2013. You can read the Times article here.
On Saturday afternoon, Christine Quinn issued a statement confirming that she did know James Polite well. She said that Polite had grown up in and out of the city’s foster care system and had suffered from mental health issues throughout his life. Quinn also said she was “devastated” by his actions and denounced the graffiti at Union Temple, which she called a “vile expression of anti-Semitism.”
Here’s what we know about James Polite:
1. Police Say Polite Wrote ‘Die, Jew Rats’ & Other Hateful Messages Inside a Historic Brooklyn Synagogue
On Friday afternoon, police in New York arrested 26-year-old James Polite, a Brooklyn man accused of vandalizing a synagogue with anti-Semitic graffiti.
On Thursday, an employee at Union Temple found a series of disturbing messages scrawled in black marker all over the inside of the building. The messages said “Hitler,” “Jews better be ready” and “Die Jew rats, we are here!” They were written in the hallways and the stairwells on the synagogue.
Police said there were also drawings of the Puerto Rican flag, and the words “Free PR” were written in black marker on walls.
2. He Has Been Sent to the Psychiatric Ward at Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn
The NYPD confirmed to Heavy that arresting officers had Polite committed to the psychiatric ward at the Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn. According to a spokesperson, the arresting officers likely brought Polite to the psychiatric ward because of his behavior during the arrest. She wasn’t able to provide any details about the arrest.
Staff at Woodhull Hospital didn’t immediately respond to a request for more information.
In a statement on Saturday, former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said that she knew James Polite well. She wrote, “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 care system, in and out of the mental health system, and in and out of homelessness…And while he has experienced hardship that many people can’t ever imagine, his actions are inexcusable.”
3. Police Say Polite May Have Also Set Fires Around Synagogues in Brooklyn
Police sources told the Daily News that they suspect Polite of setting a series of small trash fires in and around synagogues in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Williamsburg has a large orthodox Jewish community.
Police arrested Polite on Friday night. He was wearing the same clothing that he had on when he was caught on surveillance video at the synagogue on Thursday, including a distinctive red suit jacket. The NYPD said Polite was 26 years old and gave his address as 545 Classon Avenue in Brooklyn.
4. Polite Has Been Charged With Criminal Mischief as a Hate Crime
Polite has been charged with criminal mischief as a hate crime, and with making graffiti. Police say that he scrawled anti-Semitic graffiti inside the historic Union Temple synagogue in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. He allegedly used a black marker to write “Hitler,” “Jews better be ready” and “Die Jew rats, we are here!” They were written in the hallways and the stairwells on the synagogue. Police said there were also drawings of the Puerto Rican flag, and the words “Free PR” were written in black marker on walls.
5. The NYPD Says There’s Been a Spike in Anti-Semitic Crimes in New York
The New York Times reports that in 2018, anti-Semitic “incidents” have made up half of all the hate crimes committed in New York City. There have been a total of 142 crimes committed which were motivated by bias against Jews, the newspaper says.
Some of those incidents, like well-publicized attacks on Hasidic Jewish men in Brooklyn — were violent in nature. Others — like the appearance of swastikas and hateful messages in synagogues around the city — were not violent but were classified as hate crimes because of the message they contained.
The NYPD says that so far this year, there have been 290 hate crimes committed in the city (compared to 288 committed in the same period last year). Police say that 142 of those crimes were anti-semitic.