One of the artworks in downtown Ukiah that was defaced with Nazi symbols. (Photo/Ukiah Police Department)
One of the artworks in downtown Ukiah that was defaced with Nazi symbols. (Photo/Ukiah Police Department)

Two public artworks in Ukiah defaced with Nazi symbols

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Police in the small Northern California city of Ukiah are investigating as possible hate crimes the defacement of two public artworks with swastikas and SS bolts. Both were in the downtown area.

One of the artworks vandalized is by Jewish mosaic artist Elizabeth Raybee, former president of Congregation Kol HaEmek in the nearby town of Redwood Valley. The mosaic, located on a recycling bin in Ukiah’s Alex Thomas Plaza, honors the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos.

Raybee, who discovered the vandalism on June 23, said one of the men featured in the artwork is her father, a Holocaust survivor. His face was defaced with a swastika in red marker.

“I just saw this big red swastika on the face of my father,” said Raybee in an interview with J. “It is upsetting.”

Raybee said she was able to wipe off the swastikas and SS bolts with baby wipes with the help of her daughter and 6-year-old grandson.

Because the vandalism targeted a mural that honors members of Ukiah’s immigrant community, Raybee suggested that the perpetrator might not be strictly antisemitic but “anti-immigrant and anyone who isn’t white.”

The other vandalized artwork is by an unknown artist and is within walking distance of Raybee’s mosaic, near the convention center. It features a figure wearing a coonskin cap and a mask. SS bolts were drawn on the mask and a swastika on the figure’s forehead. They were discovered by Lauren Sinnot, a local artist, on June 25. According to the Ukiah Daily Journal, Sinnot was able to wipe off the graffiti with rubbing alcohol because the mural had been treated with a protective coating.

I just saw this big red swastika on the face of my father. It is upsetting.

After discovering the vandalism on her artwork on June 23, Raybee reported it to a city employee for Ukiah. Neither instance of vandalism was relayed to the police before current Kol HaEmek president Sherrie Ebyam and former president Nancy Bertsch penned a letter to the department on June 30.

“It has come to our attention that multiple and intolerable acts of HATE have occurred on city property,” the letter stated. “These acts of defilement are Hate Crimes. As leaders of our Jewish Community we will not stand by quietly and let this go by.” The letter concluded by requesting that the police investigate and stay in touch with the synagogue. The next day, the two women received a reply that said the department had opened an investigation.

“I was angry,” Bertsch said about the situation. “And I was heartbroken. It was an emotional thing for all of us.”

Bertsch and Ebyam also wrote to Shannon Riley, Ukiah’s deputy city manager. In an email response, Riley said she was “appalled and saddened” by the graffiti.

“Every effort is being taken to bring justice to the individual(s) responsible for this defilement of public art,” Riley said in her email. “The community can assist by reporting any information related to these incidents, as well as in-progress acts of graffiti or vandalism, to UPD through the non-emergency line [at (707) 463-6262]. Additionally, existing graffiti can be reported through the use of the City’s mobile app, iWorQ, available on Apple or Android phones.”

According to Lt. Cedric Crook, Ukiah police do not have “any strong leads” at this moment. He said that since the department did not learn about the incident until a week later, the “solvability” of the crime has diminished. He urged members of the community to report such crimes immediately to the department.

Crook added that the police were contacted about a similar act of vandalism with “generally the same” types of symbols and graffiti back in November, but the department hasn’t determined yet whether it is related to the most recent incident.

Raybee said that despite the situation, the outpouring of support from the Jewish community and others in town has been “positive.” Her friend Julie Beardsley wrote a Facebook post about Raybee’s art and offered a reward for information about the incident.

“What makes this incredibly hurtful is that she has close family members [who] were mudered [sic] in the Holocaust,” Beardsley wrote in her post. “Whoever did this…. You are going to be caught.”

The discovery of the vandalism also coincided with the city’s “First Friday,” a monthly art walk that featured Raybee’s works. Bertsch, who attended the event, said there was a “nice showing” of the Jewish community.

Located in Mendocino County, Ukiah is a town of approximately 16,000 people. Kol HaEmek serves the Jewish community’s inland population while the Mendocino Coast Jewish Community is located about 50 miles west over a mountain range in Caspar.

In the last couple of months, there have been multiple instances of Nazi imagery being displayed publicly in Northern California. In June, a truck was seen flying a Nazi flag in the town of Empire, located east of San Francisco near Modesto. That same month, in the nearby town of Manteca, another truck was spotted with a Nazi eagle emblem.

In December, flyers advertising the Ku Klux Klan appeared outside homes and businesses in the small town of Tulelake in Siskiyou County, bordering Oregon.

Gabriel Greschler

Gabriel Greschler was a staff writer at J. from 2019 to 2021.