12.31.2015

Swastikas at NYU

The Incident
 
I saw this:
Two swastikas on a Bernie 2016 bumper sticker at Bobst Library, around 4:20 pm, 12/29/15
at NYU's Bobst Library at around 4:20 pm on Tuesday afternoon, December 29.

I promptly reported it to the nearest security guard, telling him that the swastikas were on a Bernie 2016 bumper sticker, and showed him the above photo. He said I could try to peel it off myself. I tried; it came off slowly in tiny little pieces and it would have taken me an hour to get the swastikas off. I did not have a spare hour to remove swastikas. He said he would call someone to remove it. When I walked by 1.5+ hours later (around 6 pm), it was still there, and I took a second photo, where you can see that I had peeled off part of it (not because I have anything against Bernie Sanders, purely to try to remove the swastikas!):
Two swastikas on a Bernie 2016 bumper sticker at Bobst Library, around 6:00 pm, 12/29/15
Another friend saw it when she left the library at 8:45 pm. She submitted an online report of the incident to NYU’s Public Safety (police) department that night. I also ended up contacting two of my NYU professors to let them know that night.

Another friend called Public Safety about it at around 8 am on Wednesday, December 30. They sent someone who was at the library to look for it and reported back to him that it had been removed.

The first friend saw it still up when she entered the library at 12 noon yesterday (December 30). She told the security guard, who said that he did not notice it when he looked for it yesterday. (They are admittedly a bit hard to notice as they are scribbled in black over dark blue and white letters. On the other hand, I said they were on a Bernie 2016 bumper sticker and there was only one of those on one door. I also showed the photo of it to the security guard, so he wouldn't have to get up, and so he would know exactly what to look for, since they weren't blatant or huge.) She also told the circulation desk. The security guard said he would take care of it right away.

When I entered the library at 3:15 pm yesterday, that particular door and another were blocked off because they were replacing some light bulbs outside. There was an NYU police officer standing there, guarding the blocked off and locked-shut doors, and I said to him, "So, those swastikas are still there, huh?" He said, "What swastikas?" I showed him. He called someone else over from the security desk, who said, "Yeah, I know about that." That person called a third person over, who had a knife, and I stood there as they took the bumper sticker off the door. It took maybe 10-15 minutes.

Then I went to the main Public Safety office to complain about two swastikas being left on the front door of the university library for almost 24 hours (if not longer; I wouldn't have noticed them yesterday if I hadn't happened to put my hands right on them as I left the library). Of the two NYU police officers on duty, one knew about it and the other did not. They asked if it had been taken care of, and I confirmed that it had. They then seemed to want me to leave.

I said that I thought it was unreasonable that it had taken a day and, at my count, at least five separate attempts by three different people before anything was done. They said it was because they're understaffed this week. I asked if they would try to follow up and find out who had done it, and they said, "We'll take care of it." They seemed not that concerned and, at best, annoyed to be talking to me for more than a minute about something that was "already taken care of." I really wish one of them had said something like, "This is awful and we will treat this with the utmost importance. I am sorry that it was not taken care of sooner. Thank you for reporting it and for following up."


Reflections

So. None of that is very encouraging. I feel that they did not take it very seriously, and had an awful hard time finding and removing two swastikas that I showed in a photograph to a security guard and reported as being on a Bernie 2016 bumper sticker one the middle revolving door of the library. While they may have less staff than usual during this week, they also have almost no students on campus (thus less general mess for janitorial staff to clean up), and certainly had enough staff around to have a police officer standing guard in front of a locked and blocked revolving door while they replaced some light bulbs outside. And with a knife, it took 10-15 minutes to remove the bumper sticker. So I did not find that very convincing.

The NYU professors I e-mailed about it suggested that I contact the main security/police office at NYU. However, I am no longer at all confident that NYU security is very secure, since they were unable to find two swastikas on the front door of the library after being directed right to them. Several times! (This has also made me question their efficacy in general, since at least one, possibly two security guards couldn't even find the swastikas after being told exactly where they were. If someone, chas v'shalom, lo aleinu, were to assault me in the lobby library, these people will remember how he looked?) I updated them at the end of the saga and they said, "If the problem recurs, let us know, and we will take further steps." I certainly will.

When I first saw them on Tuesday afternoon and evening, I was very hesitant to make a big stink. I thought about bringing some supplies and taking them off the door myself if they were still there the next day. The main motivation of my hesitation was that the perpetrator might actually like some notoriety/a big deal being made, and I didn't want to give that person the satisfaction. But I decided that scribbling two small swastikas with a black Sharpie on a dark blue bumper sticker is not the way to go if one is seeking notoriety! Also, those kinds of arguments are generally just used to silence victims and don't really do anything to protect anyone. I think that in most cases, claims that, "All he wants is for you to talk about it; don't give him the satisfaction" ultimately serve the interests of perpetrators, not victims/survivors. (It might be different in specific cases, perhaps involving suicide or terrorism (including shooting rampages), but I don't think this is one of them.)

I think a second reason that I was hesitant to make a big deal was because I was not actually sure they are a big deal. I am a person who tries not to be "one of those people" who makes a big deal out of nothing. They're very small! And hard to see if you aren't looking! It's really not like a big swastika spray-painted on the side of a shul, on a Jewish gravestone, or at Hillel. I really just noticed because I happened to walk into that section of the revolving door and as I pushed the door around, my hands were literally right on top of two swastikas. But I decided that that was also wrong, and that it was appropriate to make at least a small deal out of two small swastikas. I was never really planning on making a big deal, anyway. I was just trying to decide if I should take care of it myself, or alert the proper authorities, and if the latter, whom to alert.

"It is not upon you to complete the task;
nor are you free to remove yourself from it."
Ethics of the Fathers 2:21
I have been thinking a lot about what our individual responsibility is to seek out and correct the wrongs that we see, both in this context and in the various scandals that have rocked the Jewish world over the past year or two. How much of the burden of dealing with this is mine (and my friends' who also reported it), and how much is the university's? To what degree do I prioritize this over, say, getting work done or doing my laundry? Is telling someone in authority enough? Going back to check that it has been taken care of within two hours? The next day? Then going to complain to someone else? What if that person dismisses you? If you do not complete the task, so to speak, can you trust that someone else will, or is that naive? Because this is how these things usually work; no one wants to hear or deal with bad things in this world, and if they can get away with letting it slide or passing it off to someone else to deal with, they certainly will. I know that and I was still surprised by NYU's lackluster response.

(As an aside, this is how a similar incident was handled at Fordham University. The NYU library doors are accessible by anyone walking down the street, so it's possible that the Bobst swastikas weren't put there by an NYU student at all, which makes the cases a tiny bit different. But maybe not that much.)

I still feel like I don't want to make too big a deal out of nothing, or out of a small something. But if there's another swastika spotted on campus at some point, I do want it to be handled differently, and I would also want to know if many small swastikas have been spotted across campus, which can only happen if NYU Public Safety takes this incident seriously, which I hope they have.

I am going to think about who else I should talk to or write to at NYU and express my displeasure at how this was handled. But maybe after I've gotten some more work done. After all, letting this distract me further from my work is letting the anti-Semites of the world win!