SUNY Purchase recently arrested student Raymond Turchioe, 18, of New York City for drawing swastikas on dormitory walls, charging him with first-degree aggravated harassment. The crime is considered harassment because of the intentional fear and alarm the swastika and its historical association can cause the residents of the community.
An investigation by the University Police Department (UPD) at SUNY New Paltz recently began regarding a swastika drawn in the fourth floor men’s bathroom of the Student Union Building (SUB). According to UPD Deputy Chief of Police Mary Ritayik, UPD learned of the incident at SUNY Purchase from UPD Investigator Bruce Chambers, who had contacted other SUNY UPD investigators. New Paltz UPD was aware of the incident at Purchase when the swastika was found here on the New Paltz campus.
“There’s always that chance that there is a correlation between what happened here and what happened at Purchase,” Ritayik said. “The case is still open for investigation until all the leads turn out to not advance further.”
According to Ritayik, someone had tipped-off UPD about the graffiti. In most graffiti insistences, custodians will simply report graffiti as it is considered a crime. However, due to the connotations that a swastika implies, it can be considered aggravated harassment and qualifies investigation.
“Hate and bias have no place in our society,” a spokesperson for Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center, a nonprofit organization located about four miles from SUNY Purchase, said in an article in The Journal News. “The smearing of swastikas, a symbol of the greatest genocide in the history of mankind, in a SUNY Purchase residence hall is a shameful act that must not be tolerated.”
With the SUB being a place where many people come in and out of and the time frame of the alleged drawing being unclear, it is difficult to find the perpetrator, according to Ritayik.
“If this student was found, he or she would face the charge of first-degree aggravated harassment would be implemented similarly to the case at SUNY Purchase,” Ritayik said.
According to SUNY New Paltz Psychology Professor Clifford Evans, it could be possible that this person was attempting to send a message, or simply attempting to be as offensive as possible. Evans also mentioned that graffiti is used to express a belief that one feels they can only express through anonymity, as the belief is associated with the Nazi Party and Neo-Nazi movement and, as it applies to this situation, isn’t considered socially acceptable.
“It is difficult to narrow down the reasons why people engage in vandalism in general, especially of this type,” Evans said. “Something like this could be the expression of a certain belief by using a shocking or offensive symbol such as this to elicit a reaction.”
Evans said it is entirely possible that someone wouldn’t feel comfortable to state that they have these beliefs and it may be a covert attempt to express themselves. The swastika is a powerful enough symbol that people use it for all sorts of different purposes, according to Evans.
If any leads are found concerning who may have vandalized the fourth floor men’s bathroom in the SUB with a swastika, please call the UPD Anonymous Tip Line at 845-257-2230 or go to the UPD website and fill out a UPD Silent Witness Form.