USA First Look

New Yorkers team up to erase Nazi graffiti on subway

Strangers aboard a subway car in New York spontaneously came together to scrub away swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti on a subway car, in a story that went viral over the weekend.

Passengers on a New York City subway train could have looked the other way Saturday night.

Instead, they decided to do something about neo-Nazi graffiti scrawled all over the car.

With hand sanitizer and tissues, the strangers scrubbed the swastikas and hate-filled graffiti off the walls of the No. 1 subway train heading uptown from 50th Street.

“It was very uplifting to see everyone come together like that,” Gregory Locke, author of the viral Facebook post about the clean-up, told CNN.

The story comes as the number of reported hate crimes has jumped since Donald Trump was elected president in November. But in the face of hateful messages, threats, and attacks, groups and individuals have taken it upon themselves to counter these incidents, in organized settings and in ad-hoc clean ups like the one in New York on Saturday.

In his Facebook post, Mr. Locke described swastikas written on every advertisement and every window in the car.

“The train was silent as everyone stared at each other, uncomfortable and unsure what to do,” he wrote.

The silence was broken by a man who said hand sanitizer removes Sharpie.

That man was Jared Nied, a chef at a Manhattan restaurant.

"The woman across the car saw me looking at the graffiti, asked me if I could do something and offered a tissue. That's when it clicked that sanitizer would work," Mr. Nied told CNN via text message Sunday.

Nied called for alcohol and tissues, and the passengers got work.  

“I've never seen so many people simultaneously reach into their bags and pockets looking for tissues and Purel,” wrote Locke.

Within two minutes, the swastikas and slurs, which included "Jews belong in the oven," "Destroy Islam," and "Heil Hitler,” disappeared.

Locke’s post had been shared 441,981 times on Facebook by Monday morning.

The week following President Trump's election, the FBI reported that attacks against American Muslims surged by 67 percent in 2015, driving a larger increase in hate crimes nationwide that continued through 2016.

“And civil rights groups said then that trend has only increased so far in 2016, fueled by the vitriol and rhetoric of this year’s presidential campaigns,” wrote Harry Bruinius for The Christian Science Monitor.

Hateful incidents included swastikas scrawled on the dormitory doors of Jewish students in New York City to a spray-painted “Make America White Again” on a Little League dugout in upstate New York. Twice last month, Jewish community centers spread out across the country were also the targets of fake bomb threats. In one wave of threats, 16 centers in 9 states were targeted. In the second wave, more than two dozen centers in 17 states were targeted.

Trump supporters have also been targeted for expressing their political views. In the Bronx, resident Corey Cataldo told police that he was accosted on the subway and choked by two men who noticed his “Make America Great Again” hat, according to The New York Post.

But groups and individuals have tried to tackle this hate. In November, the Anti-Defamation League organized a Speak Out Against Hate rally, joined by Mayor Marty Walsh and State Attorney General Maura Healey.

Amid a post-election surge in hate crimes, liberal cities in blue states have felt emboldened to take their own stands.

Just as red cities and states passed regulations regulating immigration or banning officials from using the words "climate change" during the Obama administration, blue cities and states are showing the first signs of trying to chart their own path in different ways under President-elect Donald Trump. 

But some of the most uplifting stories involve good Samaritans acting on their own. An unidentified subway passengers used a marker to turn a swastika written on another train into a box that reads “love,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Sunday.

This report includes material from Reuters.

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