Fear, shame may be driving anti-Semitic, racist vandalism in Cincinnati, psychologist says

What's behind Cincinnati's hate-filled graffiti?
What's behind Cincinnati's hate-filled graffiti?
What's behind Cincinnati's hate-filled graffiti?
Posted at 5:00 PM, Jan 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-24 19:12:24-05

CINCINNATI -- Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

Every "Star Wars" fan knows those lines by heart -- and a psychologist says the same pattern may be at play with whoever spray-painted hate-filled graffiti at two local schools.

Graffiti at Withrow High School in Hyde Park included several swastikas, a symbol appropriated by Nazis in the 20th century and now widely viewed as anti-Semitic and racist; the words "F*** n****** and f******," which included a profanity and slurs used against people of color and the LGBT community; and, in places, the word "TRUMP" written in all capital letters.

The vandal struck late Saturday, and crews spent Sunday power-washing the words away.

"The roots of this are found in fear, inadequacy and shame," psychologist Dr. Stuart Bassman said.

"When you combine fear and inadequacy and shame, it becomes terror," he said. "And the person, because they are so consumed with this terror, they become a coward, meaning that they cannot confront their fear directly, so in the stealth of night they cloak themselves in a way so they will not be caught."

Bassman said whoever is responsible -- the person was caught on surveillance video -- was trying to elicit anger and fear from others to feel like they're powerful and in control.


"But their behavior comes from terror, from fear, from anxiety and their solution is to solicit anger, repulsion from others," he said.

Cincinnati police told a council committee Tuesday they've gotten tips about the vandalism at Withrow, including about people who bought spray paint. But so far, they've made no arrests. They asked anyone with information that might help -- whether about a person who has clothing that looks like the person in the surveillance video, or someone who recently bought spray paint or has spray paint in their vehicle -- to call with those tips.

"We’ve taken a great deal of time and effort over the years to build these relationships with these students, so when something like this happens, we make sure that, although this is a tragic event, that they feel safe, that they understand that us, as a police department, is doing everything we can not only to prevent this in the future, but find out who did this," said Lt. Adam Hennie, with the Cincinnati Police Department's Youth Services Bureau.

The graffiti was cleaned up by the time students returned for class Monday morning, and a crowd of hundreds turned out to greet the teens with a message that they were loved.


State Rep. Alicia Reece, a third-generation Withrow alumna, wants the Ohio attorney general to investigate the incident. It marked the third time in two months swastikas have been painted on buildings in Cincinnati.

Earlier this month, someone painted a swastika on a sign at Hebrew Union College, a Jewish seminary on Clifton Avenue. Hebrew Union's president, Rabbi Aaron Panken, said the paint was easy to remove. It's not known if the same person who struck at Withrow also vandalized Hebrew Union College.


In December, an interracial couple found swastikas and other vandalism at one of their rental properties in East Price Hill. One of their former tenants was arrested and charged in that case.

The incidents might lead people to believe there's a rise in hate among Americans. But Rabbi Abie Ingber, with Xavier University's Center for Interfaith and Community Engagement, said there's probably not true.

Instead, Ingber said there seems to be a new climate where people feel more comfortable expressing some long-held hateful views.

"I think, in an unusual kind of way, here’s a chance for America to see how much hatred and racism, homophobia exists in our country and to see what we have to do to eradicate it," he said.

Bassman said the best response is resilience and solidarity, like the people at Withrow demonstrated Monday morning.

"The more that people react with anger, with disdain, with scorn, they’re feeding the perpetrator because that’s exactly what the perpetrator wants because they’re a coward," he said.

Ingber, whose parents are Holocaust survivors, also believes education is important.

"I think we have to teach every single citizen in our country, every human being who we come into relationship with, that it is true that everyone in this universe other than you is an 'other' and start with that thesis -- everybody is an 'other,' and I’m an 'other' to every other person who is here," Ingber said.