Jewish cemetery vandalism spurs stiffer penalties in Philadelphia for desecrations

A visitor to the vandalized Jewish Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia views some of the toppled tombstones, Feb. 26, 2017. (Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images)

A visitor to the vandalized Jewish Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia views some of the toppled tombstones, Feb. 26, 2017. (Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images)

(JTA) – Cemetery vandals will be fined for each act of desecration under a new Philadelphia law enacted four months after a city Jewish cemetery was vandalized.

Under the Ethnic Intimidation and Institutional Vandalism bill signed last week by Mayor Jim Kenney, fines for desecrating objects will be applied to each individual act of vandalizing a headstone, grave marker or gravesite, according to the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent.

The fine for damaging just one headstone is $2,000. For a third violation, vandals can be imprisoned for 30 days.

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson introduced the bill in an effort to amend the city ordinance dealing with hate crimes. It applies to all cemeteries in Philadelphia. He told the Exponent that he introduced the bill “to send a clear message that these hate crimes will not be tolerated.”

“We should not be dealing with any forms of hate and discrimination,” he said. “Those who engage in these types of acts are cowards.”

The damage to about 175 gravestones at the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Wissinoming, a neighbourhood in the northeast part of the city, was discovered in late February days after 154 headstones were topped at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis. No suspects have been identified.

The Fox affiliate in St. Louis reported Wednesday that plans are underway to improve security at Jewish cemeteries in the Missouri city.

Some $247,000 was collected by the Jewish Federation of St. Louis through donors and an endowment to pay for security upgrades at the city’s seven Jewish cemeteries. Fencing, lighting, and security cameras were among the items reviewed by a professional security company that consulted with the federation, according to Fox.

No suspects have been identified in the vandalism of the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in St. Louis and police have not classified the attack as a hate crime.

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