For the second time in a week — and the third time overall — an Omri Casspi mural was vandalized in midtown Sacramento. At the time of the first incident, Casspi, the first Israeli player in the NBA, was busy promoting unity and friendship in his native land by conducting a basketball camp with Palestinian and Israeli children organized by the Peres Center for Peace. Informed that the mural had been defaced with a swastika, Casspi has handled the unwanted attention with the same class and dignity he demonstated during the regular season, admitting to being hurt but recognizing that one person's reprehensible behavior doesn't speak for the sentiments on an entire city or fanbase.
My family moved from Russia to America in 1991 in large part due to widespread anti-Semitism that forced my parents to hide their religious affiliation for risk of being fired from their jobs and criminally assaulted. As a young kid, I used to hear incessant slurs in the hallways of my school, and several of my classmates refused to be friends with me when they found out I was Jewish. Nearly 20 years later, some 5,600 miles away, the ugly symbol scribbled on the billboard serves as a cruel reminder that the world is still sadly marked by the same kind of prejudice and bigotry.
It's almost unfathomable to me that a player who was received with open arms by not only the residents of Sacramento, but fans in opposing arenas, who chanted his name and waved Israeli flags in his honor, would be the victim of a hate crime. But while Casspi is a role model to thousands of fans across the globe, he's the target of scorn and detestation by countless others.
Many people will argue that the best way to stop such incidents from happening is to ignore them and not give the perpetrators the satisfaction of global recognition. But to not shed light on the story and ignore what it represents would serve as an admission of our tolerance. Whether the actions were committed by a detached and unsympathetic teenager seeking attention or intended to serve as racist propaganda, sweeping it under the rug goes nowhere in terms of promoting the education and acceptance of others that Casspi was preaching to the impressionable kids in Israel.
The Anti-Defamation League is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of responsible parties. Anyone with information should call Crime Alert at (916) 443-HELP (4357).
Photo courtesy of the Sacramento Bee.