Shoshana and Ari Simones had just returned home with their daughter from a Fourth of July trip when they saw a curious sight: their mailbox, covered with sheets of paper.
While Shoshana was inside, putting their baby to bed, Ari pulled the paper off the mailbox, where he found a note from a neighbor. “I am so sorry and disgusted by this,” it read.
Ari went inside and informed Shoshana. “It’s a swastika,” he told her.
“I just burst into tears; it was just so upsetting,” Shoshana Simones told Phoenix New Times. “I never would’ve imagined that that would be there.”
“I couldn’t go outside and look at it that night,” she added. “My husband showed me the photo on his phone.”
While they were away for the holiday, their mailbox had been defaced with a swastika and the word "Jew," spray-painted in black. A neighbor intervened before the Simones family returned, covering the racist and disturbing graffiti with tape and paper.
But the next day, the Simoneses removed the paper on the mailbox. Instead of removing or hiding the hateful imagery right away, they left it up, uncovered.
“We’re not ashamed to be Jews, and we’re not going to let someone try to scare us,” Shoshana said.
On Thursday morning, they awoke to see that someone had spray-painted over the graffiti, covering it with black ink. Shoshana, 29, thinks it might have been “a teenager who was scared or embarrassed,” who returned at night to cover their graffiti after media reports of the hate incident.
Regardless, today the Simones family and their neighbors intend to repaint the mailbox. “They’re going to come out and bring paint and supplies,” she said. “We’re going to write positive messages of love and pride.”
The incident is a ugly reminder of a national undercurrent of hatred and prejudice. And the graffiti is just the latest in what experts say is a rising trend of hate-based attacks, in Arizona and around the U.S.
It seems this is shaping up to be a banner year for hatred.
In April, the Anti-Defamation League reported that anti-Semitic incidents in Arizona – including assaults, harassment, and vandalism – have already exceeded the total number that occurred in 2016. And since 2015, the number of anti-Semitic incidents has more than tripled in the state.
Recently, Jewish community centers in Scottsdale and Tucson received bomb threats on the same night in February, and an auditorium at Pinnacle High School was defaced with a swastika in March.
“This is not a new phenomenon,” said Carlos Galindo-Elvira, the Arizona director for the ADL.
“Anti-Semitism is one of the oldest hatreds in the world," he told New Times. "It’s never gone away. It may have been under the surface, but it exists.”
In the wake of Donald Trump – whose presidential run galvanized racists and trafficked in a toxic brew of white nationalism and xenophobia – it’s hard not to draw conclusions about the upward trend. In the 10 days after Trump’s victory, the Southern Poverty Law Center cataloged almost 900 reports of hate incidents using media reports and submissions to their website.
According to the FBI's latest data, there were over 5,850 hate crimes nationwide in 2015. Attacks on Muslims surged by 67 percent, and anti-Semitic attacks were the most common form of religiously motivated hate crimes. And in Phoenix? The city saw a larger-than-average increase – hate crimes rose by 26 percent.
It's even more troubling once you consider that these numbers are probably a low estimate: State and local law enforcement aren’t required to report incidents to the FBI, and many incidents go unreported. Since the election, the nonprofit investigative news organization ProPublica has stepped in. The “Documenting Hate” project is currently chronicling the scope of bias attacks nationwide with witness submissions and media partners.
"Certainly, in this current environment, it seems to have been made permissible to act in this way toward not just Jews, but toward immigrants, toward Muslims, and toward members of the LGBT community," Galindo-Elvira said. "And so hate attracts hate."
Hate-based attacks also don't happen in a vacuum. Bias attacks on an ethnic or religious group create a ripple effect of distress for anyone who shares the targeted identity, according to the American Psychological Association. Galindo-Elvira said that oftentimes, the community bears the weight of a hate incident.
"What we have to understand about hate crimes is it’s a message crime," he told New Times. "It’s not just about how it impacts one family, but indeed how it impacts the neighborhood, and the community as a whole.”
Sergeant Jonathan Howard, a spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department, said the department's bias crime unit is investigating the vandalism at the Simones residence; there are no updates at this time.
The family's courage in the face of an attack on their home has been praised, especially in light of the continuing effort to document the scope of hate incidents. Galindo-Elvira said of the Simoneses, “I really applaud the courage that she and her husband have demonstrated in owning the word, and wanting to educate the community.”
For her part, Shoshana said the incredible support from the community has been “a silver lining.”
“We’ve had neighbors stopping by – everyone’s been horrified, and wanting to make it clear that this was one ignorant, hateful person,” she said.
July 13, 2016: A recycling bin was set on fire outside a Tucson mosque. No one was hurt, but approximately 30 people were inside the Islamic Center of Tucson at the time. The Arizona chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called for law enforcement to investigate a possible bias motive.
Dec. 3, 2016: Vandals broke the front window of the Middle Eastern Bakery and Deli in Phoenix. According to owner Isam Saed, it was the second time in a month that his window had been shattered.
Dec. 30, 2016: A family’s menorah display in their yard was vandalized and twisted to resemble a swastika. Naomi and Seth Ellis, along with their three young sons, who live in Chandler, built the menorah out of PVC pipe to celebrate Hanukkah. “We never would have imagined that someone would spread so much hate here,” Naomi Ellis wrote on Facebook.
Feb. 27, 2017: Jewish community centers in Tucson and Scottsdale received bomb threats on the same evening, and police swept each property. Normal operations resumed after no bombs were found. A nationwide series of threats to synagogues and Jewish community centers took place during the first months of 2017.
March 14, 2017: A man broke into the Islamic Center of Tucson, ripped up copies of the Quran, and threw them on the floor. “Although we are disheartened by this incident, we understand that this is an isolated incident,” the Islamic Center wrote in a Facebook post.
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March 25, 2017: An exterior wall of Pinnacle High School in Phoenix was defaced with swastikas and "white power" in graffiti. “This is a terrible and upsetting act and why Federation remains vigilant in the face of persecution and dedicated to building strong, vibrant Jewish communities,” the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix said in a statement.
March 29, 2017: Anti-Semitic fliers were distributed near Scottsdale and Cactus roads overnight. Scottsdale police investigated the messages, which appear to have originated from a neo-Nazi website.