LOS ANGELES (RNS) — Television news outlets reported on Tuesday (April 11) that a suspect was arrested in connection with an act of vandalism at a mosque in Los Angeles’ Koreatown.
News of the arrest comes a day after LA law enforcement and interfaith leaders came together at a news conference on Monday to condemn the ”anti-Islamic hate words” that were inscribed in permanent marker on the pillars of the Islamic Center of Southern California.
Based on surveillance footage, police described the perpetrator as a white man between 40 and 50 years old, who was wearing all black. While there is limited information, police said he may be unhoused.
News photos show “222 FREEDOM USA” written on the pillars.
Omar Ricci, a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California, called the vandalism “an act of hate” that has pained the community, especially because it occurred during Ramadan, the holiest time of the year for Muslims.
Ricci noted the stabbing of an imam who was leading his congregation in prayer at a New Jersey mosque on Sunday, as well as the attack on worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City.
But, Ricci said, “the attack was not just on this center or what’s happening in other parts of the world or the country, it’s an attack on our city as a whole.”
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said at the news conference that detectives from the major crimes division have been assigned to the case, adding that there will be “no tolerance for any type of hate.”
Moore pointed to the rise of hate crimes in the region since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. LA County’s 2021 Hate Crimes Report found there were 786 hate crimes reported in the county in 2021, a 23% spike from the previous year and the largest number reported since 2002, with more than half of the crimes being racially motivated.
Religious crimes increased by 29% and the rate of violence was the highest on record. Jews were the most targeted.
“There are individuals out there that are trying to pull us apart,” Moore said.
“It’s important for us that we not just solve this case … to bring some assurance of consequences to this congregation and to people of the Islamic faith, but to all Angelenos that this is a city of inclusion,” Moore said.
Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said that thanks to extra security cameras provided under a Federal Emergency Management Agency program, the Islamic Center was “able to capture this culprit (on camera).”
“Before, we didn’t have that. Before, Muslims didn’t feel they were part of our society, part of the system of justice,” Al-Marayati said.
“Now, because of the people who are here, who respond for justice … who respond against hate crimes, we feel that our Islamic Center is in a good place, regardless of what people like that coward was trying to do in the middle of the night,” Al-Marayati added.
At least two people connected to the mosque expressed concern at the news conference for the person who committed the vandalism. “Hurt people hurt people,” one man said, saying it was important especially during the month of Ramadan to ask, “What are we doing to help the hurt people heal?”
Another man said he was happy to see law enforcement respond but hoped that “if this individual is suffering from mental health, that we can readily identify it and begin to help.”
Al-Marayati said the Islamic Center of Southern California would be conducting town hall meetings after Ramadan to address how to be merciful, while “at the same time respect law and order and security for our community.”