A rise in antigay vandalism has Tucson, Ariz., police and community activists worried that it could lead to more violent crimes or attacks. Lori Girshick, coordinator of the Wingspan Anti-Violence Project, points to two incidents last week in which someone spray-painted a slur at a center for gay, lesbian, and transgendered youth and a swastika at a GLBT-oriented church. In April, antigay graffiti was painted at an abandoned property near Interstate 10. "They are powerful. This is not an idle action," Girshick said. "What you do find is that you don't get a hate crime--an assault, an attack--in an environment that is tolerant and accepting.... Graffiti does create a climate that can encourage people who do have prejudiced views."
Leaders with Wingspan, Tucson's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community resource center, say recent slurs that have popped up around Tucson correlate with a national trend of increased hate crimes aimed at the gay community. Girshick said a rise in antigay vandalism is especially worrisome in light of a report issued this year by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects, which found a 26% increase in hate crimes in the second half of last year. The report examined several cities and regions, but not Arizona.
Vandalism aimed at minority groups "pumps people up" who view minorities as weak, said Tucson police detective Tim Rupel, who investigates hate crimes. "When we start seeing graffiti and pamphlets, it's usually a precursor for the potential of more violent crimes," he said. Rupel said the best way to combat hate graffiti is simply knowing what's happening in your neighborhood and reporting graffiti and suspicious activity to the police. Removing graffiti promptly is also a way to combat the crime, he said.