CHESTERTON – The discovery of racist, anti-Semitic graffiti on a building at Indiana Dunes State Park last week has some area civil rights activists concerned about whether it was properly reported by state officials.
Trant D. Pendley of Furnessville, a member of the Civil Rights Committee of the Anti-Defamation League, said there are two major questions concerning the incident.
"No one knows whether this was just a bunch of dumb kids being stupid, or was this some hate group marking its territory?" Pendley said Monday.
The other question is whether state officials have taken the appropriate actions to report the incident.
"I have a feeling the state has not reported this appropriately, and that could be just from a lack of knowledge on how to do so," he said, adding Indiana law makes it tough to properly report such incidents.
The graffiti was discovered last week by area residents who regularly walk the park, and posted a photo on a closed Facebook page. They reported the incident to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the park.
"I am a frequent hiker of our local dunes trails. Friday morning, I was at Dunes State Park when I saw the graffiti on the pavilion. I was appalled that someone was so hateful to spray paint the swastikas and KKK graffiti on the pavilion," said one woman, who asked that her name not be used.
She said she posted "the photo I took of the desecration" to the Dunes Action Discussion Facebook page and reported the incident to the DNR and the state park.
"My post had many comments, including one that said just before 7 a.m. on Thursday, another individual and her sisters found the graffiti. They also reported the graffiti. So a day later I saw the graffiti ... the state park made no effort at that point within that first 24 hours or so to clean it up, did not encourage the construction gate to be closed to block the view, or make a temporary cover to hide this nasty graffiti from public view," the woman said.
"I see on my post that someone observed that the graffiti was cleaned up by sometime Saturday afternoon. I suspect the DNR wants to keep this incident quiet ... if so, shame on them," she said.
"There was some graffiti found [Thursday] morning," Ginger Murphy, deputy director of state parks for IDNR, said in an emailed statement. "We were saddened and disappointed to see it, and do not condone such ugly defacing of state property.
"The incident is being investigated by DNR's Division of Law Enforcement and we are working on removing the graffiti," she said.
The graffiti, which included "KKK" and a Nazi swastika, is believed to have occurred overnight Wednesday or early Thursday morning, as another Facebook post said, "it was not there Wednesday at 4 p.m."
Indiana State Police spokeswoman Sgt. Ann Wojas said she was "not aware" of that agency investigating the incident at the state park, saying "I would assume it's DNR since they usually handle anything there."
DNR Law Enforcement spokesmen did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Pendley, who works at Albert Jewelers and Bartlett's Fish Camp in Michigan CIty, said he posted the photo on an FBI tip line, and contacted the federal agency, which did take a report, he said.
"After the people who found this hate crime graffiti posted the photo on Facebook, I also tried to contact the Anti-Defamation League, but they were closed for the Jewish holiday," he said.
According to Pendley, Indiana law makes it hard to properly report hate crimes, and unless a police report specifically mentions "hate crime," the incident is not reported to the FBI.
"Indiana only classifies hate crimes if they occur against an institution, cemetery or school, but I think a state building should qualify under those guidelines," he said. "There just seems to be an ignorance of hate crimes in Indiana and the General Assembly has refused to enhance the law like other states have done."
Earlier this year, the House passed a hate crimes bill, but it was amended in the Senate to remove the list of specific protected groups – including race, sexual orientation and gender identity – that had been in the initial language.
Opponents criticized the measure saying it could not be effective without the specific groups named, while supporters said the more general law would cover everyone. Indiana remains one of five states without a specific hate crimes law.
Nancy Moldenauer, vice chair of the Michigan City Human Rights Commission, said such instances need to be taken seriously.
"It is truly sad when a historic, iconic building like the Indiana Dunes Pavilion is defaced with the abbreviation of a White Supremacist group and a symbol of Nazi hate. With bias crimes on the rise, all such acts must be reported and registered as hate crime," she said.
"Let's encourage law enforcement to take acts like these seriously to find and prosecute the perpetrators."
"We need to know if they actually did report it and who they reported it to," he said. "The real story of this may not be that it happened but that it was not properly reported."
A member of Temple Israel in Miller who also attends services at the Sinai Temple in Michigan City, he said past incidents of anti-semitism in Northwest Indiana were "basically covered up" by law enforcement, including the defacing of a local mosque, and incidents in Gary and Valparaiso – all of which occurred decades ago.
"For a lot of Jewish people, this is unfortunate and frightening. We need to know who did this and if it was just kids or some hate group cell that may strike other places in the area. We need to know if this is going on elsewhere and being covered up," Pendley said. "A lot of Jewish families are worried."