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Vandalism against Muslim immigrant likely not a hate crime, police say

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An act of vandalism perpetrated against a black Muslim immigrant who has lived in the city for three years probably was not a hate crime, according to Watertown police.

The windshield of Issa Alzouma’s 2003 Chevrolet Avalanche was shattered, the driver’s side windows were smashed, and a note containing racial slurs was tucked under the windshield wipers on Dec. 7. According to a police report, the note read in part: “I know where u work too!!! U better watch your back!!!”

No one has been charged.

Detective Richard J. Purvis said that, despite the note, his investigation has not uncovered anything to indicate that the vandalism was related to “religion, race or color.”

To prove a hate crime, “I’ve got to come up with, during the course of my interviews, somebody who’s a racist,” Det. Purvis said.

Mr. Alzouma, a native of Niger, is employed as a security guard at the Dulles State Office Building. Police said they are looking there for possible leads, believing the incident — in which Mr. Alzouma’s truck sustained about $3,200 worth of damage — to be related to tension at the workplace.

Mr. Alzouma is on paid leave from his job while police complete their investigation.

According to New York penal law, a hate crime is committed when a person commits an offense and either selects the person against whom the offense is committed or commits the act constituting the offense “because of a belief or perception regarding the race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation of a person, regardless of whether the belief or perception is correct.”

The note by itself does not automatically make the incident a hate crime, which could carry a more severe penalty, Det. Purvis said.

Interviews or witness statements establishing that the individual or individuals responsible for the vandalism intentionally selected Mr. Alzouma because of his race, color or national origin would be required in order to elevate the incident to a hate crime, according to Det. Purvis.

So far, no such statements have been discovered, though the investigation continues.

Det. Purvis said in an email that several people have been interviewed, producing “a couple of new leads.”

“At this point of the investigation, there is no evidence to label this as a hate crime as originally reported,” Det. Purvis wrote.

Police are asking anyone with information about the incident to call 782-2233, reference the investigation and leave a message for Det. Purvis.

The Council on American Islamic Relations has called on the FBI to aid in the investigation.

Earlier this month, Sadyia Khalique, director of operations for the organization’s state chapter, said: “The racial and religious slurs used in this act of violence clearly indicate a need to investigate a bias motive. By adding its resources to the investigation of this case, the FBI will send a message that hate-motivated acts of anti-Muslim violence will not be tolerated.”

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