Community and religious groups will protest in downtown Chicago on Friday after a Muslim man found his father’s grave desecrated at an Evergreen Park cemetery, an apparent act of vandalism that follows two other incidents targeting Muslim institutions.
On Thursday, a Muslim man discovered someone had written “Raghaed Killer” on his father’s tombstone at Evergreen Cemetery, Evergreen Park Police Lt. Peter Donovan said.
While some Islamic groups have labeled the incident a hate crime, detectives have not yet come to the same conclusion, Donovan said, adding that street gang symbols were also drawn on the tombstone with what appeared to be a black marker.
“It’s not clear if it’s just property damage or something more,” Donovan said.
Vandals have hit the same tombstone six times since March 2011, Donovan said, and detectives were trying to figure out if the grave was targeted because of the family’s religious beliefs or because of a personal vendetta.
Rabya Khan, a spokeswoman for the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the continued desecration of the grave troubled her.
“It’s extremely upsetting that this is a continued pattern,” she said. “I would like to see increased security measures taken by the cemetery.”
The cemetery, at 3401 W. 87th St., is home to about 500 Muslim graves, according to a statement from the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.
Numerous local Islamic leaders quickly condemned the vandalism and have called a rally at 5 p.m. on Friday near Congress Parkway and Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
“The Southwest Side has been home to a large Muslim and Arab-American population for over 30 years,” said Ahlam Jbara, associate director for the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. “It is shocking to find such hatred, especially at a cemetery.”
The incident comes after a man fired a high-powered pellet gun at a Morton Grove mosque last week and someone allegedly threw an “acid bomb” at a Muslim school in Lombard on Sunday.
In a statement, Zaher Sahloul, chairman of the council, blamed “irresponsible and hateful” comments made by U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh for helping spark the recent wave of vandalism against the Muslim community.
“We ask our neighbors to show their rejection of hate and ask our law enforcement to be vigilant during the approaching Muslim holiday Eid,” Sahloul said.
During a recent town hall meeting in Elk Grove Village, Walsh made remarks about radical Islam that offended some Muslim organizations.
Walsh said a “radical strain of Islam” had made its way into the Chicago suburbs.
“It’s here,” he said. “It’s in Elk Grove. It’s in Addison. It’s in Elgin. It’s here.”
Walsh defended his comments in a video released by his re-election campaign on Wednesday, saying, “Let me be clear: Bowing down to political correctness has and will get Americans killed.”
On Friday, a Walsh spokesman issued a statement on the graves saying: “Congressman Walsh is troubled by attacks on any people based on their religion. Whether it be the recent attacks on Muslims, or the roughly 1,000 anti-Semitic attacks that occur every year, these incidents must stop.
“From his work on the Homeland Security, Walsh is very focused on the very real threat that a radical strain of Islam poses to our national security, and ignoring that threat for the sake of political correctness would be negligent,” the statement said.
“However, the vast majority of Muslims are just as peace-loving and as concerned with this threat as anyone else, and in no way should they be targeted simply because of their religion.”
Jessica McDunn, a spokeswoman for Houston-based Dignity Memorial Network, which owns Evergreen Cemetery, said, “We are shocked and dismayed that anyone would disturb any grave. We consider this despicable. It is upsetting to a family who has buried their loved one. It is very offensive.”
She said anyone with information should call the cemetery “so the criminals can be brought to justice.”
Brian Zygadlo, of Garfield Ridge, who on Friday morning was at the cemetery visiting the grave of a friend who died 30 years ago, said, “It’s unfortunate. You shouldn’t have to see that.”