Imagine driving down the Massachusetts Turnpike during rush hour one morning, people honking at you incessantly and cutting you off in their mad dash to get to work on time. Just as you are about to lose your temper, you notice a huge billboard on the side of the highway with a simple message, “Try God.”
If you live in Boston, you may have noticed the advertising campaign by a Catholic radio station a few months ago. The “Try God” campaign ran in the Greater Boston area in September in an effort to reach the Boston community and encourage people to listen to the Catholic Radio station 1060 AM WQOM. There were 23 billboards posted around Boston on the major highways. On August 23, 2013, the radio station received an unexpected call from listeners informing them that the billboard located along the Massachusetts Turnpike in Brighton, had been vandalized. According to the report, the billboard had been altered to read, “Try God. The other WHITE meat.”
What does it all mean?
The meaning behind the vandal’s message was unclear. What was obvious, though, was that this act of vandalism was not simply the work of teenagers with spray paint. Instead, a white banner was printed with the odd message and actually placed on the billboard to cover the radio station’s call sign. Apparently, whoever was responsible went through a lot of trouble to make the sign appear authentic.
The manager of the Catholic Radio broadcast, Chris Kelley, was not happy about the defacing of what was meant to be an “uplifting message.” However, Kelley admitted that the act was not entirely negative, as he explained,
This act, however, is an indication that the “Try God” billboard campaign is attracting attention and making people reflect on the role of God in our lives. That attention is the silver-lining and a sign that the campaign already has been successful.
No other signs had been tampered with, and the one in Brighton was corrected the following Monday morning to convey its original message. Unfortunately, vandalism of religious symbols or messages is not an isolated occurrence. This billboard defacing incident in Boston may not have been as serious as some other reported incidents. For example, vandals painted a swastika and the words ‘White Power’ on a gatepost outside a synagogue in Staten Island. Three teens were arrested for significant damage to an Islamic mosque in Delaware. Some of these cases are ultimately investigated as hate crimes.
Religious vandalism as evidence of hate.
As with swastikas and burning corsses, vandalism of religious symbols can be a calling card for hate crimes. Last July, a Brooklyn man, Chris Papadimitropoulos was charged with six counts of criminal mischief as a hate crime, after he defaced numerous churches in the Brooklyn area. When he was all done, he had vandalized four churches and a Bay Ridge prep school. Papadimitropoulos was suspected of splattering red paint on a statue of Jesus Christ and one of the Virgin Mary, outside Saint Anselm Catholic Church.
He was also suspected of spray painting the word “no” at the front entrance of the Bay Ridge Jewish Center and on the front wall of a Lutheran church on Ridge Boulevard. Strangely, the suspect is believed to have spray painted the word “on” at the entrance of Bay Ridge Prep. Reports say the vandal painted the word “no” at the entrance of the Jewish Center large enough to be seen from more than two blocks away. Although the motive for these crimes of vandalism was not clear, the incidents were investigated as hate crimes.
What is the law on vandalism in Massachusetts?
In Massachusetts, destruction or damage of someone else’s property is known as “malicious damage,” and comes with stiff penalties. The extent of the sentence if convicted depends on your intent at the time of the offense. If you acted “willfully and maliciously” you could receive a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and fines of $3,000 or 3 times the amount of the damage caused, whichever is greater.
If it is shown that you acted “wantonly” (or carelessly) the penalty is only a maximum of 2 ½ years in jail or a fine of $1,500 or three time the value of the damage, whichever is greater. If the damage you cause is less than $250, you can still be sentenced to 2 ½ months in jail and fined 3 times the amount of the damage you caused.