Chicago — Prosecutors on Wednesday filed hate crime charges against a man who allegedly defaced a Jewish history exhibit at a Chicago Public Library. But the man’s defense attorney says the man’s graffiti may have been “a historical claim potentially about who the real descendants of the 12 tribes of Israelites are.”
The Chicago Jewish Historical Society and Jewish Neighborhood Development Council collaborated on the exhibit, “Then and Now: 10 Decades of Jewish Community in West Rogers Park,” which debuted on October 23 at the Northtown Library, 6800 North Western Avenue. It features 14 displays about Jewish life and community in Chicago.
On November 20, surveillance video showed 46-year-old Eugene Warren stepping away from a computer at the library and writing “Fake Jews” on one of the displays with a pen, Assistant State’s Attorney LeRoy Martin III said. Library employees discovered the defacement the next day and saw similar writing on a bathroom sign that said, “Black Brown Yellow Jews, not White Europeans.”
Martin said library staff discovered another display photo defaced with the words “Fake Jews” in the same handwriting on Monday. When Warren returned to the library later that evening, library employees called the police.
Officers detained Warren, who allegedly told them he was exercising his freedom of speech. He also admitted to writing “Fake Jews” on the displays, but he said he could not be charged with the bathroom sign incident because there were no cameras in the bathroom, Martin alleged.
Warren, who served time in 2017 for defacing a church or school and in 2010 for aggravated battery to an unborn child, is now charged with hate crime and institutional vandalism.
But Assistant Public Defender Matthew Shepard, who said Warren is separated from his wife, attends mosque, and works full-time as a baggage handler at O’Hare, offered a much different view of the state’s allegations.
“There’s no threat of imminent violence. This wasn’t done at a synagogue or a place of worship. No antisemitic symbolism was done,” Shepard countered.
“Writing ‘Fake Jews’ could also be taken as a religious belief, as it is common for religions to claim that they are the true religion in opposition to other fake religions, systems of belief, or non-believers, or also as a historical claim, potentially, about who the real descendants of the 12 tribes of Israelites are,” he continued.
Shepard argued that nobody saw who defaced the bathroom sign, and no handwriting experts had linked Warren to the vandalism.
The lawyer also suggested there are “First Amendment issues that this case brings up regarding freedom of speech and religious expression.”
Judge Maryam Ahmad seems unconvinced by Shepard’s First Amendment claim.
“While the right to speech is enshrined in our Constitution, it is not a right without limits,” Ahmad said. “When individuals use the phrase ‘free speech,’ lay people tend to think that means you can say or write anything to anyone at any place and time, wherever you want. And that’s not what our Constitution represents.”
“There are limits to this right of freedom of speech,” said Ahmad.
She ordered Warren to pay a $2,500 bail deposit to go home on electronic monitoring.