Baltimore County police investigate 15 cars vandalized with swastikas, obscenities in Lochearn

Residents of the quiet, mostly African-American Lochearn neighborhood in Baltimore County woke up early Friday to find their homes and cars vandalized with Nazi swastikas and other obscenities.

Several got knocks on their doors from Baltimore County police, who alerted them to the crime and said 15 cars and two homes were spray-painted with phrases such as “f--- u,” “black” and “KKK.”

“It’s scary,” said a 38-year-old woman whose white truck was vandalized with swastikas and the word “black.” “I moved from the city to the county to get away from crazy stuff. I have kids. How do I explain this to them?”

She asked that her name not be used out of fear she would be targeted again.

“There’s been racial tension going on, but I never thought it would happen directly to me,” she said. “It makes me feel angry. I’m worried they’ll try to do something else like try to set the house on fire.”

The vandalism, which took place in the 3700 block of Sylvan Drive and the 3600 block of Lochearn Drive near Liberty Road, is being investigated as a bias incident, police said.

The cars on Sylvan Drive were spray-painted with obscenities, including the F-word, with black paint, said Officer Jen Peach, a county police spokeswoman. The cars on Lochearn Drive were vandalized with a mix of obscenities and swastikas, she said.

The same spray paint was used on both streets, and video footage from residential surveillance systems indicates that the same person — wearing dark clothes and carrying a backpack — was responsible for all the damage, Peach said.

Police have been unable to develop a more detailed description of the suspect, including identifying the suspect’s gender or race, she said.

William Jones, 65, who has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years, spent the morning using hand-cleaner to remove graffiti from his neighbors’ cars.

“What can I say? Crime is hitting everybody,” he said. “It’s bad.”

He chatted with neighbor Tony Williams, 55, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than two decades.

“It’s a shame, man. This is a nice neighborhood. This neighborhood is quiet. Things like that doesn’t happen around here,” Williams said.

But he said he didn’t plan on letting the racism of the graffiti get to him.

“It’s a bunch of idiots,” he said.

Bryen Glass, president of the Lochearn Improvement Association, said many residents were angered by the vandalism.

“They were appalled,” he said. “I didn’t sense any fear. It was more anger. We have a lot of seniors in the community. When this happens, it does shake them.”

Glass, a 14-year resident who is a county police officer in the nearby Woodlawn precinct, said in light of this incident, he’ll remind residents of crime-prevention steps they can take, such as installing surveillance cameras, trimming their shrubs and keeping porch lights on at night. The neighborhood does not have much crime, though there was a recent string of burglaries, he said.

A citizens-on-patrol group dwindled, Glass said, but “maybe this will get people more motivated.”

County Council Chairman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat who represents the area, said he was disturbed by the vandalism. He said a church in the neighborhood was tagged with a swastika earlier this year.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘I have this type of belief in my heart.’ It’s another thing to feel compelled to let people know about it by doing something, and doing it in a way that is spewing hatred,” Jones said.

Jones said he’s “very concerned” about the vandalism. He said the neighborhood is home to many longtime residents and is predominantly African-American.

County Executive Don Mohler also said he was concerned: “This kind of behavior is disgraceful and is absolutely unacceptable in Baltimore County or anywhere. There is no place for such hateful, harmful acts.”

Howard Libit, director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said the vandalism in Lochearn is the latest in a rising number of hate incidents. He noted that white supremacists are planning a “Unite the Right” rally in Washington this weekend — one year after a deadly demonstration in Charlottesville, Va.

Gov. Larry Hogan and his Democratic challenger, Ben Jealous, have both issued statements condemning the rally.

“We’ve seen an uptick in the number of incidents related to hate, not just toward the Jewish community, but toward a number of different communities,” Libit said. “Whether it's swastikas or other expressions of hate, it’s all offensive.”

Libit said many hate crimes such as vandalism go unreported, because victims often want to clean up and move on without giving the perpetrators any attention.

Police believe the vandal was in the area between 11:30 p.m. Thursday and 12:30 a.m. Friday.

Police are asking anyone in the area who has damage who has not yet made contact with police to call 911. They also are asking anyone with surveillance footage or information about the vandalism to call the department’s Pikesville precinct at 410-887-1279.

“We’re asking everyone in that surrounding area to check surveillance cameras they have,” Peach said. “If they see anything in that time frame, to give us a call so we can come review it and see if it’s available.”

Baltimore County has had other hate and bias incidents in recent months.

Last month, the Council on American-Islamic Relations called attention to repeated threats received by a family that immigrated from Iraq to Dundalk 2½ years ago. The family has been the target of catcalls and its house was egged during the Islamic holiday of Ramadan, CAIR said.

Del. Shelly Hettleman, who is Jewish, said a man yelled “Heil Hitler! You don’t represent us!” at her from his car while she was campaigning near Greenspring Station in June.

Also in June, a county Fire Department employee found a letter containing a death threat and a racial slur on his vehicle that was parked in a Towson parking garage.

Maryland 93 reported hate crimes in 2016, the latest year with available statistics, according to the Maryland State Police, which collects the data. That represented a 116 percent increase from 2015.

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