SACRAMENTO — A hateful Nazi swastika twice defaced NBA player Omri Casspi’s picture on a downtown Sacramento Kings mural on Sept. 8 and 16 and twice met with widespread local condemnation, including from the local Sacramento and Florin Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) chapters. Casspi, who hails from Israel, debuted with the Kings in 2009 and is of the Jewish faith.
Upon each incident, City of Sacramento maintenance crews quickly painted over the small swastika on Casspi’s forehead. The Sacramento Kings mural is located on 16th Street between Q and R streets.
The swastika is a despised symbol of the anti-Jewish hatred of the German Nazis during World War II. It has been perpetuated by right-wing groups and skinheads in the U.S. and other countries.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, the Sacramento Kings, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), city police and many others denounced the bigotry. The ADL added $1,000 to the existing Crime Alert reward fund, backed by another $1,000 from Kings co-owner Joe Maloof to make a total reward of $3,000. Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Alert at (916) 443-HELP.
For Japanese Americans and the local JACL chapters, this attack raised many memories including for Sacramento JACL Chapter President Miko Sawamura. She recalled how their Sacramento JACL office, Temple B’nai Israel, Sacramento NAACP and the home of Sacramento City Councilman Jimmie Yee (a Chinese American) were all firebombed in 1993. “This incident is a reminder that we need to continue sending a strong message that bigotry is not acceptable in our Sacramento community.”
Later in 1999, hate-mongers firebombed three Jewish temples in Sacramento and murdered a gay couple in the Northern California town of Redding. Japanese Americans continued their support of Jewish Americans, plus worked closely with the gay and lesbian community, including raising donations for a temple rebuilding fund.
Marielle Tsukamoto, president of the Florin JACL chapter in Sacramento, has been an activist in many redress education and interfaith efforts, including working with the Jewish community. As Tsukamoto explained, “This shows we have to start moving toward better understanding and acceptance, not just tolerance.”
Anti-Semitism continues unabated in the U.S. In the latest 2008 “Hate Crimes Report,” the FBI disclosed that hate crimes are on the rise in recent years. Of the 7,783 hate crimes reported, 17.5 percent (1,606) were due to religious bias. Of these, 65.7 percent were anti-Jewish. Additionally, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the real number of hate crimes in the U.S. is actually 15 times as many as those reported to the FBI. Crimes based on race, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity and disability are much more prevalent than commonly believed.
Andy Noguchi is the Civil Rights Co-Chairperson for the Florin JACL chapter and for the Northern California – Western Nevada – Pacific JACL District. He serves on the Nichi Bei Foundation Advisory Council and writes from Sacramento.