Highland Park police: Man arrested for defacing 'Home is Where We Make It' mural
Highland Park police announced that a man was arrested and charged for vandalizing the "Home is Where We Make It" mural.
Police said in a Facebook post that 54-year-old Thomas Santo, of Highland Park, was charged with bias intimidation and criminal mischief for the defacement of the mural.
A preliminary investigation by detectives determined that Santo first vandalized the mural on the morning of April 29 by painting the word "USA" over it. Then, in the evening, he allegedly painted two Stars of David.
A banner that reads "repair in progress" was hung over the vandalism that was spray painted a week earlier.
The creators of the mural clarified that the mural is not about the diversity of the community, which may have been assumed.
They say the mural was created to highlight the works of the local organization Interfaith Rise and its effort to help refugees with resettlement in the United States.
"We wanted to create a beautiful image that shows that we, here in Highland Park, welcome them and celebrate them," said Dan Swern, of CoLab Arts.
Swern said the artist who painted the mural was harassed three times by passers-by. In each case, they complained that there was a lack of white representation. However, not one of those people was Jewish, including Santo.
He also explained the people in the mural represent those who have come from Northeast Africa and the Middle East in a specific area around the Red Sea.
"The constellations reference the part of the sky above the Red Sea connecting Syria and Eritrea," Swern said.
In the Facebook post, Police Chief Rick Abrams said in part, “Highland Park prides itself on its diversity and acceptance of all, and this act struck at the heart of what we stand for. The Highland Park Police Department is resolute in its condemnation of this vandalism and all acts of bias and hatred. We will continue to work with our community and borough partners to ensure the safety of all."
Councilwoman Elsie Foster also condemned the act of vandalism and praised police for their efforts.
"I find it repulsive that someone desecrated something that was really beautiful. I'm so proud of the police department and work that they did," Foster said.
The artist will be back to repair the painting in a week or so, and then it'll be sealed with a clear coat to prevent future damage.
The investigation is ongoing. Authorities ask that anyone with additional information to call the Highland Park Police Department at 732-572-3800.