Police investigate graffiti as hate crime

March 26, 2009 3:54:39 PM PDT
Graffiti on election signs has taken a sinister turn in south suburban Blue Island. The challenger for mayor is crying foul after someone or a group of people defaced his campaign signs with Nazi swastikas. And now the FBI has gotten involved in what is being termed a hate crime.Tommy A. Brown thinks Blue Island Mayor Don Peloquin is not necessarily behind the loathed markings that showed up on some his signs eleven days before the election. But he figures it's a tough election -- something the mayor agrees with.

On Monday morning, a business owner discovered swastika painted on his storefront window next to the words 'vote Peloquin.' On the other side of the window was a sign supporting Brown.

The mayor, who has been in office since 1985, acknowledges the fight to hold his seat is tough, but his campaign was not behind any of this -- and it does not say there's racial tension in Blue Island.

"That's not what our community is all about, our community has been diverse since the 1930s so it has been the type of community where whether you are black brown, yellow white you can all live together," said Don Peloquin, Mayor of Blue Island.

The town, which is reeling from the impact of home foreclosures and job losses, is seeking to re-invent itself as a south suburban regional health center.

Challenger Tommy A. Brown says, like the mood nationally, it is time for a change in a city that hasn't been led by a person of color in its 173 year history. He's running on a Democratic ticket with a Hispanic candidate for city treasurer.

"I do not want to assume that Mayor Peloquin had anyone do this, but it is kind of odd that the first time out in 24 years someone would deface a sign with me and a young lady who are trying to take the seats here in Blue Island," said Tommy A. Brown, mayoral candidate.

Blue Island police have categorized this as a hate crime and say the FBI has assisted in a canvass of neighbors. The mayor says the law requires defaced brown signs to be removed from lawns like these. A veteran of D-Day and 55-year Blue Island resident, Jessie Rodriguez weighs in.

"It makes me sick. It makes me sick. Because that's something that that man wants to run. He can run for whatever he wants," said Rodgriguez.

Whether the incident is an actual hate crime is murky. The FBI says it is assisting Blue Island in its investigation. Only after solving that can it be determined if it was a hate crime. It's all about assessing the motivation of the offending individual. And at election time defaced signs -- no matter how bad -- have to rise to a very high standard before federal civil rights law can be invoked.