The Silver Gull Beach Club in Breezy Point, Queens closed its playground for part of Labor Day weekend, after vandals covered the premises in racist, anti-Semitic graffiti. The club's manager was not immediately available for comment Monday morning, but the NY Times reports that members received an email on Friday night explaining that, "due to the recent and increasing incidence of vandalism from within the club," the playground would not be open the following day.
According to the report, the graffiti included the words "heil Hitler," "gas chamber," and racial slurs targeted at black people, as well as big red swastikas and red handprints on the doors. Sgt. Richard Firrito, a spokesman for the U.S. Park Police in New York, told Gothamist that the suspects — most likely "juveniles" — appeared to have broken in through a shed adjacent to an arts and crafts pavilion, "trashing the room." Although there is no security camera footage of the incident, police believe it happened around 3:30 p.m. on Friday, while the club was open for business. No suspects have been identified, and the investigation is ongoing.
Silver Gull is among the city's last private beach clubs, situated close to Jacob Riis in Breezy Point. It opened in 1963, and since then, has attracted a loyal cohort of (primarily white, middle-class) members: Cabanas, which go for $5,000 per summer, get passed down within families, according to the Times. "No one leaves this club; we just die," one Dave Gelfman, 101 in 2016, previously told the paper.
According to the Times, the manager's internal email about Friday's graffiti was vague, angering some Silver Gull members. "We cannot sweep this under the rug, we have to acknowledge when these things happen and all the members of the club need to know the club doesn’t tolerate racism or anti-Semitism," Michelle Freedman, the descendant of a Holocaust survivor, told the Times. Others agreed: "The question is, how are you going to respond?" Mike Eichenwald said. "Are you going to take a stand, articulate your values and bring people together? Or are you going to cover it up, pretend it’s of little consequence and look the other way?"
Across New York City and in New Jersey, anti-Semitic hate crimes spiked last year, with incidents involving swastikas jumping 76 percent between 2016 and 2018. In addition to vandalism, some of these attacks have targeted places of worship — like the Bushwick synagogue that saw its windows shattered in February — while others have left victims physically injured. Last week in Crown Heights, for example, a 63-year-old rabbi was attacked with a brick while working out in a park.
In a statement, Governor Andrew Cuomo said he was "disgusted" with the apparent bias crime, emphasizing that there will be "zero tolerance for hate of any kind in New York" and directing the State Police Hate Crimes Task Force to join the investigation. "Enough is enough," the statement continued. "Every single elected official in this state — Democrat and Republican — must come together to denounce these continued acts of hatred and attempts to intimidate and terrorize. We must also call these vile acts what they are — they are hate crimes and they are illegal."