Bonneville Elementary community spreads messages of love after hate crime vandalism

Dec 18, 2023, 5:54 PM | Updated: Dec 19, 2023, 12:23 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — The eastside Salt Lake City community banded together to spread messages of love after an elementary school was targeted, with police investigating it as a hate crime.

Salt Lake City police say a citizen discovered that Bonneville Elementary School was spray-painted with racist and hate-filled graffiti Sunday morning. Chief Mike Brown said they obtained school surveillance video showing the vandals targeting the building at 7:15 p.m. Saturday.

“Let’s call it what it is. This is a hate crime,” Brown said.

In his mind, the vandalism meets Utah’s definition of a hate crime.

“You commit a crime, a criminal mischief with the intent to target different groups,” he said.

But Brown doesn’t know why an elementary school was targeted.

“That’s so concerning. I mean, so sad,” he said.

Police would not release the video, saying it might interfere with their investigation. They’re asking anyone with more door-cam footage to contact them.

“They targeted our African American community. They targeted our Jewish community. They targeted the disabled. They targeted the LGBTQ and the Asian community. So it was very disturbing,” said Bonneville Elementary Principal Karen Holman.

Turning the message around

Meanwhile, the eastside Salt Lake community is trying to turn the message of hate into a message of love.

“Our wonderful building here today. It is covered in love messages. Our students have been working hard to just spread acceptance and kindness to everybody,” Homan said.

As crews finished power washing the school Monday morning, chalk messages lined the entrance to the school. The messages said things like, “We love you,” “Stronger together,” and “You are important.”

Fifth-grade students hung a banner saying, “Love is powerful.”

A banner saying "Love is powerful", being displayed in the school's hallway.

A banner saying “Love is powerful” being displayed in the school’s hallway. (KSL TV)

Holman said the school’s parents were some of the first to band together on Sunday after they noticed the graffiti and were able to get to the school faster than district cleaning crews.

“They showed up with cleaning supplies before our district crew could show up wanting to get this erased… So our message is, thank you. Please keep teaching your students how to love and how to accept and to treat everybody with dignity,” Holman said.

Holman said stopping hate crimes needs to start from the top down.

“When you look at what’s being spread from national news to local news, from local politicians to big politicians to what’s happening just around in the world, it just needs to come from top down that we can have different differing views, but we have to work together, and we have to compromise, and we have to be accepting and treat everybody with dignity,” she said.

A banner outside of the school saying "Peace Love Joy."

A banner outside of the school saying “Peace Love Joy.” (KSL TV)

Brown said it requires action from all of us.

“We stand up to it. We report it. We support the victims. We make sure that we give them the resources that we have. But all of us together, we will come together as a community. And this is how we prevent it,” he said.

Brown added that he does believe there has been a recent rise in hate crimes in Salt Lake City.

“We’ve had pride flags stolen over the summer, and just a few weeks ago, we’ve had hate crimes at the Asian nail salon. We’ve now had the situation of at Bonneville Elementary. We need to talk about these things,” he said.

And his message: they will not be tolerated.

Utah’s Jewish community responds

The United Jewish Federation of Utah condemned the vandalism, saying it only makes some children feel like they don’t belong in their own community.

“Children who view these vicious scrawls may be confused by unfamiliar graffiti, but their parents and teachers, who must explain it, will not be,” the federation said in a written statement. “They will know that there are angry, misinformed people who believe threats that frighten children and intimidate teachers serve some useful purpose. They don’t.”

The federation hopes that teachers and parents will teach students to “appreciate, respect, and, when necessary, defend their classmates” against these types of targeted actions.

The group provided a couple of tips on how to speak to children about these issues:

  • Speak with your family about what these symbols and phrases signal and why they are unacceptable. Be a positive example.
  • When you hear something offensive, tell the person that those words only instill or reinforce prejudice. Hateful actions are often preceded by unchecked hateful speech.
  • Work with your employer to build norms of respect and inclusion.
  • If a neighbor or local institution has experienced a hate incident, reach out so they know they are not alone and unsupported. Minority communities are strengthened when others stand with them.
  • Most importantly if you hear, see, or experience a hate incident report it to the police. You can even report anonymously.

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Bonneville Elementary community spreads messages of love after hate crime vandalism