New Brunswick man arrested for window damage
Highland Park police arrested 52-year-old Richard Green last night in connection with acts of vandalism to five Jewish-owned businesses.
The front windows of Trio Gifts, Judaica Gallery, Jerusalem Pizza, Jack’s Hardware and Park’s Place Kosher Family Restaurant, all located on Raritan Avenue, were found damaged and smashed Tuesday morning.
Green, of Bayard Street in New Brunswick, is charged with five counts of criminal mischief, a fourth-degree offense, and may face additional charges if the crime is upgraded to a bias crime, according to a release from Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan.
The preliminary investigation determined that Jewish merchants who sold clothing, food or religious items pertaining to the Jewish faith own the targeted shops, according to the release.
Judaica Gallery co-owner Shmuel Shimoni said he has never seen an incident like this in his 30 years of residency, but that he did not want to jump to conclusions.
“I don’t want to guess. Obviously, because all stores that were hit were Jewish stores, but I have to wait until the police and all the reports come out before making any judgments,” he said.
The damage, which left some store windows completely smashed and gone, evoked some emotional reactions by those affected.
“The initial reaction was, who did it? Will it happen again? But overall, we were grateful that no one was hurt and the damages were all repairable,” said Jack’s Hardware owner David Krul.
Rabbi Edward Prince, manager for Jerusalem Pizza, said he is trying to stay objective until all the facts are disclosed.
“If you look at the stores that were hit, clearly they’re all Jewish. But it’s easy to jump to conclusions,” he said. “If you look at the logic of what was hit, what wasn’t hit — it’s not [so] obvious. It could easily be someone who just went off their meds.”
Some community members are also trying to hold off their opinions until the police have fully investigated the matter.
“People jump to conclusions very quickly, but it’s important that we all keep level heads until we know exactly what’s going on,” said Gayle Brill Mittler, a Highland Park Council member.
Tina Krul, wife of Jacks Hardware’s owner David Krul, said she thinks the attacks purposefully targeted Jewish stores.
“What are you supposed to think? It’s obvious it was because of anti-Semitism,” she said.
Officers distributed fliers to the community yesterday afternoon announcing the investigation into the crimes.
“All of our officers are aware of the sensitivity of this situation, and we will make every effort with patrols and surveillance to keep everyone safe,’’ Highland Park Police Department Chief Stephen Rizco said in the release.
Prosecutors are also investigating similar incidents of vandalism at the Rutgers Hillel and the Chabad House on the College Avenue campus where windows were allegedly broken at both locations Saturday night.
Owners and employees said they tried to not let the targeting of Jewish stores affect them, but some neighborhood residents said they felt devastated and shocked when hearing the news.
“I’m horrified. It’s awful and I’m very upset. It looks like a hate crime and I don’t even know what to say,” said Highland Park resident Mary Schmutz. “You read about things like this and hear about them, but this doesn’t happen to your town.”
Highland Park resident Scott Thompson said he was surprised the incident occurred in Highland Park.
“I consider it very disappointing that there are people, especially here in a place like New Jersey, who would be so bigoted,” he said. “I could understand a less ethnic area, but not here.”
Thompson feels that the type of community Highland Park is presents itself as a viable candidate for a situation like this.
“If someone wants to try and make an impact and try and scare people and produce concern, I [would] think a place like Highland — a quiet town with a large Jewish population. It makes sense someone would target a place like us. But it’s an act of cowardice.”
But resident Leonard Bridges said Highland Park does have some tension regarding different ethnic cultures.
“It’s kind of segregated in a strange way — Jewish, black, white. There may be some ethnic tensions. I don’t know. It’s just changed,” he said.
Bridges feels Highland Park has changed and is not as warm as it used to be.
“Highlands is very different then what it was when I grew up. It used to be a place where people would look out for each other’s kids, but it’s not like that anymore,” he said.
David Krul hopes the vandalism is an isolated incident and that the community will go back to business as usual.
“I worry about walking down the street no matter what,” he said. “I’ll walk and be a little more vigilant. It’s probably a remote incident. But if it happened again, I’d be much more disturbed by it and much more concerned.”