WEST RIDGE — A suburban man is charged with committing hate crimes for allegedly spray-painting swastikas on a West Ridge synagogue and a Jewish high school, and smashing windows at two other synagogues over the weekend.
Shahid Hussain, 39, of Niles, is charged with four counts of felony hate crime as well as criminal damage and defacement, police said.
The charges follow a string of anti-Semitic vandalism around the Far North Side neighborhood. At least three synagogues, a high school and local Jewish businesses were spray painted with swastikas or had windows broken.
Hussain was arrested Sunday night after police received a call of a suspicious person in the 6300 block of North Sacramento Avenue who was shouting anti-Semitic slurs and threats, Supt. David Brown said at a press conference Tuesday.
Police determined Hussain matched the description of the person who earlier that day spray painted swastikas on F.R.E.E. Synagogues, 2935 W. Devon Ave., and Hanna Sacks High School, 3021 W. Devon Ave., officials said.
Police also say Hussain was the person who broke windows at a synagogue in the 3600 block of West Devon Avenue and at Congregation K.I.N.S., 2800 W. North Shore Ave. earlier in the weekend.
Hussain is facing two counts of felony hate crime against a place of worship and two felony counts of hate crime against a school, plus four additional felony counts related to property defacement, according to police.
Hussain was ordered held on $250,000 bond at a Tuesday bond hearing. He will be turned over to the Illinois Dept. of Corrections because he was on parole for a 2017 forgery conviction out of DuPage County, officials said.
Hussain’s defense attorney said Hussain has “mental health issues.” He works as a machine operator at a manufacturing plant and lives with his mother. He’s the father of a 1-year-old and 3-year-old.
Cook County Judge Barbara Dawkins ordered Hussain, if released, to stay away from the school and synagogues impacted.
“This is a textbook case of a hate crime,” Dawkins said. “A hate crime is a very difficult case to prove. It something that isn’t typically charged, but this is a textbook hate crime when someone is going around … this individual went around the North Side of the city and targeted a group of individuals and evoked fear in this group of people who were minding their business and trying to live in this city peacefully.”
The vandalism took place over the weekend in the Devon Avenue corridor of West Ridge, the hub of the Orthodox Jewish population in Chicago.
In addition to the attacks Hussain is charged with, a Jewish man was verbally assaulted Sunday near F.R.E.E., police said.
On Saturday, two Jewish businesses had their windows broken: Kol Tuv, 2938 W. Devon Ave. and Tel Aviv Bakery, 2944 W. Devon Ave. Charges have not been filed in those vandalism cases, Brown confirmed.
Despite the arrest, local police officials said they found more instances of swastikas and racist vandalism in the neighborhood while investigating the earlier crimes. Joseph Brennan, commander of the Rogers Park police district, did not say where those additional swastikas were discovered at a community meeting Monday.
“We did find out … this afternoon there were additional swastikas painted in different locations,” Brennan said. “We’re documenting that and investigating that, as well.”
Monday morning, a member of Congregation Bnei Ruven was threatened by “several individuals” standing just outside the congregation’s building, Brown said. A congregant found their car window smashed, he said.
Brown would not comment on the incidents that occurred since Hussain has been in custody, saying they are an open investigation. Police will remain vigilant in the area as the investigation continues, he said.
“We can never downplay hate,” he said. “We can never give it room to hide. This demonstration of unity is necessary.”
After his congregation was targeted, Congregation Bnei Ruven leader Rabbi Baruch Hertz said his community will continue to look out for each other while still going about their lives.
“Unfortunately sometimes we have to deal with good and with evil,” he said. “We know we have to address it. At the same time, we are not deterred in any way.”
The vandalism targets a Jewish community that was already on edge after a man took hostages at synagogue in Dallas in mid-January. The incidents occurred days after Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“This is especially disturbing as we just concluded packing hundreds of meals for needy people, including Russian seniors and Holocaust survivors who experienced first-hand anti-Semitism,” Rabbi Levi Notik, leader of F.R.E.E, said in an email. “And then to walk outside and see this.”
Additional police patrols will remain in the Devon Avenue corridor following the vandalism, Brennan said.
“This is going to stop now,” Brennan said. “We’re making sure that over the next couple days and weeks, we’re on point and we’re where we need to be to make sure we don’t have any other incidents.”
Representatives from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s office also attended Monday’s meeting. Leaders of the local Jewish community attended the meeting in person and via Zoom.
“These are not isolated events — we are seeing an alarming uptick in anti-Semitic violence throughout the nation,” Schakowsky said in a statement. “This is unacceptable.”
The investigation has been aided by community members calling in tips and suspicious activity, officials said. Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) asked neighbors to look out for each other and to call police if they see anything suspicious.
“Our community is an extremely tight-knit community who cares very much about each other, who is very concerned about what is happening and who stands united against hate,” Silverstein said.
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