Faith leaders: Treat vandalism at Hindu temple as hate crimes

BOTHELL — Local faith leaders called on law enforcement to treat recent vandalism in Bothell as hate crimes targeting Muslims.

Law enforcement agencies say they are taking the incidents seriously, but they haven’t determined if they are hate crimes.

The vandalism, which was discovered early Feb. 15, targeted Muslims, but was left on the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center and Skyview Junior High School in Bothell. Swastikas were spray-painted at the sites, along with the words, “Get out.” At the school, Muslims were targeted in the graffiti as well.

The temple has added surveillance cameras and other security measures, said Mani Vadari, one of its founding members, at a press conference Wednesday. Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian leaders and community members condemned the acts.

As ugly as the incidents are, practitioners at the temple have been “humbled by the overwhelming support we have received” from the community and elected officials, he said.

Nit Niranjan, chairman of the temple’s board of trustees, said the organization had been flooded with email, letters, flowers and other gestures of solidarity.

“I feel blessed, because I found out who are my friends,” he said.

The Hindu community can forgive the perpetrators “for what they did to us,” he said. But “we believe the law should take its course.”

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the vandalism at the temple, which is on unincorporated land. The Bothell Police Department is handling the graffiti at Skyview Junior High, which is two blocks away but inside city limits.

Students were on winter break at the time of the vandalism.

The school, which is part of the Northshore School District, is working with Bothell police, said Leanna Albrecht, the district’s spokeswoman.

Student safety is a priority for the district, but school officials “believe this is a community issue,” so Skyview students were not being targeted, she said.

The FBI also has been involved, said Ayn Dietrich-Williams, spokeswoman for the bureau’s Seattle division.

“From the get-go, the FBI has pursued a parallel but coordinated investigation,” she wrote in an email to The Daily Herald. “Although an open investigation, ours merely matches up with the work done by our Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office partners, so we are poised to become more actively involved should evidence prove substantial to build a federal criminal case.”

This month’s incidents are not isolated, said Arsalan Bukhari, director of the Washington chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

He pointed to anti-Muslim graffiti and hate literature left at the Islamic Center of Bothell between 2012 and 2014.

The graffiti at the Hindu temple and the school were clearly meant to intimidate, especially anyone in the area practicing Islam, he said. “It means all of us are being targeted.”

After the incident, Labiba Khan, 31, and her husband installed surveillance cameras at their nearby house, where they live with their two young children.

“It’s scary,” Khan said.

She came to Wednesday’s press conference at the temple to show support. She and her family are Muslim.

Khan dresses and sounds like any other suburban mom. At the temple, she was holding her 8-month-old daughter, along with a Winnie the Pooh book and Elmo doll, and had a diaper bag over one shoulder.

She’s tried to talk with her 4-year-old son about the vandalism in terms he can grasp.

“I don’t know how you talk to him about it,” she said. She’s told him “some people don’t know any better.”

Hate crimes against Muslims spiked in 2002 after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, a database that collects voluntary reports from law enforcement agencies across the country.

Since then hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. have stubbornly stayed at 100 to 150 a year, well above the 20 to 30 reported in the late 1990s, according to the database.

More intimidation occurred Monday, said Niranjan, the temple’s chairman.

A man in a white pickup drove aggressively in the temple’s parking lot, making a lot of noise and leaving tire tracks in a gravel-covered area. The tracks were visible two days later.

When people came outside to see what was causing the noise, the man yelled a racial epithet most often targeted at black people, and told them, “Get out!” Niranjan said.

“Get out to where?” he said. “I’ve been here 40 years, two-thirds of my life. I live here. I’m a stranger in India. It’s like someone telling you to get out of your home.”

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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