A swastika spray painted in an Ahwatukee Foothills roadway on Friday may have been a thoughtless prank, but it was deeply offensive to those who know what the symbol represents.

"I wish they knew the powerful impact and the history these images have, not just for Jews but for anybody who is a target of that type of hate," said Laura Burpee Austin, who stopped and called police right away when she saw the graffiti. "I can't qualify where it is on the scale of hate crimes, but it's targeting a group of people who are going to be sensitive to it and are going to be discriminated against in their lives. It's really upsetting on so many levels, especially when we look at hate crimes that happened against young gay people or how they've reacted to the hate that's put forth, and the same thing to African Americans who have a cross burning in their front yards. There's someone who's really sensitive to that imagery."

Austin not only called police, but also Ahwatukee Foothills Rabbi Victor Beck. Together, the two waited at the scene until the graffiti was cleaned up. When police at first told Austin that it might take some time to get Graffiti Busters to respond, she walked to Ace Hardware and asked for help. The owner, Kevin Cash, sent an employee with their graffiti remover out right away to help.

"We were just trying to help out the neighborhood," Cash said. "We're active in the community and pretty much just volunteer all over, wherever we can help out. Whatever we can do, we try to do."

Cash said their spray paint at Ace is locked up, and by the end of the month they hope to have updated technology on their registers that would prompt cashiers to get some contact information for anyone buying spray paint. He hopes the new updates will further deter taggers in the area.

Eventually, police were able to get a Graffiti Busters crew to the scene and covered the offensive symbol as quickly as possible. The crews are often backed up behind a pile of requests, but for especially offensive graffiti they try to respond quickly, said Sgt. Matsko of the Phoenix Police Department.

Beck said he was amazed at how many cars drove past without stopping to take notice of what was going on.

"It's a rather serious assault," Beck said. "As a Jew I felt comfortable in this community from the moment I came here. I was welcomed with open arms by the community in general. I like it here a lot. I can't think of going any place else, but when somebody defiles your home, and you have to think of your neighborhood and your community as much your home as your own house is, it is a defilement."

Austin said she spoke up about the symbol because it was offensive to her on many levels, one of which has to do with the work she has been doing recently to help bring a Holocaust museum to the East Valley.

"Wednesday evening we hosted a training session for docents that will be working on the Anne Frank Show," Austin said. "In the presentation I did for the docents who would be leading people through the show, and eventually the museum, is we talk about bystanders and what role they play. Are you the bystander that drives by and doesn't say something or are you the bystander that says something?"

The Anne Frank Exhibit will be opening at the East Valley Jewish Community Center in February.

Phoenix is making it easier to report graffiti through text, email or even a smartphone app. For more information, visit phoenix.gov/nsd/programs/graffiti.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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