(CHICAGO) -- Dozens of headstones at a Jewish cemetery have been defaced with swastikas and offensive graffiti in bright red paint, and police are urgently looking for the culprits responsible.
The incident occurred Monday morning when police were called to the Congregation Am Echod Jewish Cemetery in Waukegan, Illinois, after 16 large headstones were found with bright red swastikas painted on them along with 23 more headstones that had been defaced with other offensive graffiti, according to ABC's Chicago station WLS-TV.
"In the immediate aftermath of the continued escalation of antisemitic incidents, this one hits hard," David Goldenberg, the Anti-Defamation League's Midwest regional director, told WLS in an interview following the incident. "What it really represents is this normalization of antisemitism, and that is what we find to be incredibly concerning. We have to remember that this is a fringe element of our society and we far outnumber them. So we got to be smarter than them. We have to be just as aggressive as them and we got to be louder than that. And that's how you fight back."
A total of 2,717 incidents of assault, harassment or vandalism were reported nationally to the Anti-Defamation League in 2021 -- a historical high against American Jews since the ADL began tracking such data 43 years ago in 1979, the ADL said.
Antisemitic incidents have increased by 430% in Illinois from 2016, when there were 10 incidents reported, to 2021, when there were a total of 53, according to the ADL. There was also a 15% increase in the state from 2020 to 2021 -- 46 reported incidents in 2020 compared to 53 in 2021.
"ADL Midwest reported a total of 175 anti-Semitic incidents in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, combined," the ADL said in a statement published in April detailing the crimes. "This was a 62% increase from the 108 combined incidents reported in 2020 – and 202% higher than the total number of incidents reported just five years ago for 2016."
This is all part of a disturbing trend happening on a "near daily basis," said Goldenberg.
Waukegan Mayor Ann B. Taylor issued a statement in the aftermath of the cemetery's defacement, both offering her support as well as urging accountability for the vandalism.
"I am deeply disturbed and angered by the hateful imagery found spray-painted on headstones this morning in Am Echod Jewish Cemetery," Taylor said. "Hate does not have a home in Waukegan; when such incidents occur, our marginalized neighbors are victimized, and our entire community suffers. I hope our officers promptly locate the perpetrators of this despicable act and hold them accountable, and I offer my full support to those directly impacted by this vandalism."
The Waukegan Police Department is urging anyone with information regarding this case to contact them immediately on the Waukegan Police Department tip line at 847-360-9001.