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Man arrested after Union Station defaced with drawings of swastikas outside building

Geraldo Pando, age 34, faces two charges in connection with the incident.

WASHINGTON — GRAPHIC WARNING: A tweet below shows the vandalism at Union Station, which includes hate imagery. 

A man was arrested Saturday in connection to several drawings of swastikas found outside of Washington Union Station Friday morning, a day after Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Geraldo Pando, age 34, has been charged with Display of Certain Emblems and Defacing Private/Public Property. Police said in addition to spray painting swastikas on Union Station at around 12:45 a.m. on Friday, he also spray painted graffiti on buildings at the 900th block of 5th St. Northwest, 400 block of Massachusetts Avenue Northwest and 400 block of L St. Northwest earlier in the day.

In a press conference Friday, Police Chief Robert Contee said Amtrak is investigating the incident with MPD support. 

"For the Metropolitan Police Department, we've been in touch with our Jewish community as well as Jewish leadership to talk about the incident that happened, you know, what we're doing, just to make sure that we're on all cylinders with respect to how we respond to these things," said Contee. "We want to be swift, we want to be accurate in making sure we identify the person who's responsible." 

At that press conference, Contee said the person responsible for the incident may be an unhoused resident who appears to have mental health challenges. 

Dismayed visitors questioned why the vandals were not confronted while the incident was occurring.

“I thought there was supposed to be a lot of security around train stations and airports,” said traveler Vickie Elson of Massachusetts. “Where were they? This is so sad.”

Cab driver Abdulah Ali pointed to nearby buildings with security cameras.

“I hope they catch them," Ali said. "This is bad for the country."

"Amtrak strongly condemns this act of hatred and will work with our landlord, USRC, and their lessor to remove these symbols as quickly as possible," Amtrak spokesperson Kimberly Woods said in an email. 

Amtrak is classifying the incident as a "property damage" case.

“We were extremely disturbed to learn this morning that Union Station had been vandalized with swastikas,”  Meredith Weisel, deputy regional director at ADL’s D.C. office, said. “The swastika symbol is a deeply painful display of antisemitism, and has no place in the nation's capital or anywhere else. Plus, the timing of this hateful act is incredibly alarming considering that yesterday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This incident reinforces that we must be educating our students about antisemitism and hate in all of its forms.”

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a statement on the incident Friday evening calling it "both shocking and unsettling."

"This antisemitic and hateful symbol has no place in our city, and we stand united with the members of our Jewish community against anti-Semitism in all its forms,” Bowser's statement says.

According to the ADL's most recent Audit of Antisemitism, in 2020, more than 2,000 antisemitic incidents were reported throughout the country -- a 126% increase over 2019. It was the third-highest year on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979. Of the reported incidents, 751 were vandalism.

D.C. saw the 13th highest number of antisemitic incidents across the U.S. in 2020. 

“We continue to see a steady rise of antisemitic incidents of vandalism and a substantial increase of harassment," Weisel said Friday. "Each incident no matter the severity has a significant impact on the Jewish community causing fear and angst. We as a collective community must continue to say no to this hate and speak out against it."

Thursday's International Holocaust Remembrance Day marked the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazis' Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland. An estimated one-third of world Jewry was annihilated by Nazi Germany and its allies.

With each passing year, the number of remaining Holocaust survivors continues to dwindle, and with it the country's living connection to those who endured one of the greatest atrocities in modern history. 

The Holocaust Survivors’ Rights Authority, a government department, said that more than 15,000 survivors died in 2021.

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