Queens residents are alarmed over a Sunnyside condo lobby's hateful, bizarre decorative choices, which include a swastika, a shrine to the confederacy, and photographs of Hitler and Stalin in the lobby, as well as two 10-foot tall figures of Uncle Sam greeting neighbors outside.
On Wednesday morning, Queens City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer led a rally in front of the 47-55 39th Place apartment building, where he urged the NYPD to investigate the building's property manager, who is believed to be behind both the lobby display and a larger campaign of harassment against minority tenants.
"I see and have had them tell me personally how afraid they are, and they're literally unable to speak out for fear of retaliation from this man, so we as a community have to speak out for them," Van Bramer told Gothamist. "If you put it all together—the images in the lobby with the fear I've been told firsthand by people who live there—you realize there's something much larger going on."
"This lobby is a hate crime,” Van Bramer told CBS 2.
As first reported by NY1, the controversial displays are allegedly the work of property manager and condo board leader Neal Milano. In addition to the menacing decorations, the building's directory inexplicably includes the names of well-known Nazis Rudolf Hess and Josef Mengel, as well as the names of hip hop stars and former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. And according to people who live in the building, Milano has a reputation for harassing tenants, and for placing pro-Trump bumper stickers on the doors of those who cross him.
"As a brown person, the interior really scares me, and makes me really fearful of walking around the neighborhood," one longtime neighbor of the condo, who would not provide his name for fear of retribution, told Gothamist. "That row of houses is very integrated, very brown, but it only takes one bad apple with a gun."
The neighbor says he's lived in Sunnyside for nearly two decades, and first grew anxious about the area after a crop of pro-Trump bumper stickers appeared in the neighborhood after the election. He's especially nervous now, he admits, in light of "the current political climate."
Unnamed sources who live in the building also told ABC-7 minorities have long been the focus of Milano's tormenting. They say that he's regularly posted notices in the lobby about residents' nonwhite visitors, including "a six-foot-four Middle Eastern person of interest" and "a male visitor who is Asian."
"That's not patriotism," one tenant of the condo, who was also too afraid of Milano to give her name, told the Post. "He does it to sock it to the Muslims and the foreigners. Who wants to come into the building and see all that nonsense?"
"We’re supposed to feel safe and secure where we live, and at the moment, we don’t because we all feel bullied by this individual,” another building resident said to Pix11.
Attempts to reach Milano were unsuccessful, and his attorney, Jacob Laufer, did not return a request for comment. In an interview with the NY Post, Laufer denied the bizarre building directory was the work of his client, and said the condo board approved the decorations.
“The murals were put up with the approval of the board of managers," Jacob Laufer told the Post. "[Critics] can run for the board and if they succeed in becoming members of the board, then they can, I guess, do otherwise."
"In Sunnyside Queens, New York City, 2017, the level of fear that exists in that building has no end," Van Bramer countered. "With all that's happening in our country, it’s even more disturbing to see pro-Nazi posters and messages of hate intended to provoke fear in these tenants. I won't tolerate it. "
UPDATE: The Anti-Defamation League condemned the "divisive, offensive, and hateful imagery" on Wednesday afternoon.
"New Yorkers must be able to feel safe and welcome in their homes free of hostility and intimidation," ADL New York Regional Director Evan R. Bernstein said in a statement. "Adorning an apartment building lobby with such imagery sends a disturbing message of intimidation to tenants, potential tenants and the community at large. Our communities, homes and neighborhoods should be inclusive and welcoming—not plastered with instantly recognizable symbols of racism or hate which only threaten to intimidate and isolate."