When Kimberlee Swift of Baltimore’s Fells Point neighborhood first saw the large swastika painted on a light post outside of her house on June 16, she was struck right to her core.
“I burst into tears,” Swift said. “I was absolutely shocked, I was scared, I was extraordinarily angry.”
It wasn’t long before Swift and her neighbor, Luann Carra, realized that other swastikas had been painted in the area. They have since found over a dozen.
The women, neither of whom is Jewish, felt something had to be done about the swastikas. They decided to paint over them with rainbow hearts.
“Our immediate reaction was we need to cover this up right away,” Swift said. “I make rainbows for a living, that’s my job, and I knew that it’s a super powerful, positive symbol.”
Carra has lived in the area for 28 years, while Swift has been a resident for 18, they said. Until these recent incidents, neither of them could remember anything like this occurring in their neighborhood, and certainly not at this scale.
While the first swastika outside of her house was around 7 inches in height, Swift said, she recognized that the others have been notably smaller.
Typically, before covering up the swastikas with painted rainbow hearts, Carra and Swift will take care to document the hate symbols by taking pictures of them and recording the date and time they were found, Swift said. They send that information to a local detective who is working on the case, as well as to Baltimore City Councilmember Zeke Cohen.
Before painting over the first swastika, Carra called Cohen. “I called Zeke [Cohen], and I said, ‘Hey, we’re going home to get this started. I don’t want to wait for permission from the city or anything, ‘cause they’re probably going to say “No.” But I can’t just leave a bunch of swastikas all over my neighborhood.’”
Cohen also felt deeply disturbed by the sudden appearance of these swastikas, he said.
“I am the grandson of a Holocaust survivor and multiple Holocaust victims,” Cohen said. “And so for me this is a symbol of terror. … I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you, if my grandmother hadn’t left Austria and escaped. Much of her family was murdered in concentration camps. So it’s incredibly personal.”
A suspect has been charged with destruction of property in connection to the swastikas, according to Cohen.
When asked for more information related to the case, the Baltimore Police Department provided an incident report stating that Nikolaos Ioannis Diakomanolis, 26, of Baltimore was served a criminal summons in reference to destruction of property.
In a tweet, Cohen thanked the community and police, as well as Swift and Carra, for their work on the situation.
“I want to thank the community for working with my office and BPD to collect pictures and video evidence,” Cohen wrote. “Also grateful to our amazing neighborhood artists for painting beautiful rainbow hearts over the swastikas. Racism, antisemitism and hatred will not win!”