Two Jewish police officers filed a federal lawsuit against the Philadelphia Police Department on Nov. 19, alleging years of anti-Semitic behavior by their colleagues and being punished professionally for alerting supervisors of their experiences.
The lawsuit, according to documents provided by their attorney, Brian Mildenberg, accuses members of the Franklintown-based 9th District of scratching a Nazi “SS” symbol into a locker and drawing a Star of David and the phrase “Hebrew Hammer” onto a door of a patrol car, among other offenses.
This suit follows a complaint filed by the pair with the department’s Internal Affairs unit in August, according to Mildenberg.
Officers Stacey Gonzalez, a 21-year department veteran, and Pavel Reznik, who has served for 12 years, said the anti-Semitism they faced created an unsafe working environment and violated their civil rights. Ten officers and their supervisor, Cpl. Karen Church, are accused in the filing.
Mayor Jim Kenney’s office and the police department declined to comment. The Fraternal Order of Police also declined to comment, but noted that the suit took them by surprise; according to John McGrody, a vice president of the FOP, Nov. 19 was the first time he’d heard about the suit.
There is a laundry list of complaints in the suit.
Gonzalez alleged that Church said to her, “Why doesn’t the United States just take a missile and blow up Israel?” Following this, Gonzalez said she notified Church that she was uncomfortable with the comment, and that Church retaliated by putting Gonzalez on extra cleanup shifts and “speaking to her in a demeaning way and with a negative attitude.”
Gonzalez also said she was routinely denied time off for Jewish holidays, and suffered frequent verbal abuse from her fellow officers; in one instance, a 2018 Memorial Day potluck for police officers, she alleged that she was told, “don’t bring no motherf—— kosher s—.”
Reznik alleged similar abuse.
Officers would often mock his Russian heritage, the country from which he immigrated. There were comments about “all the benefits immigrants get, without doing any work,” and when he would receive mail, he would be told that “immigration was looking to deport him.”
He found the passenger side rear-door of the patrol car scratched with a Star of David with the words “Hebrew Hammer” written underneath. He also found the word totenkamp, German for “skull and bones,” etched into his locker, along with the SS symbol. Similarly to Gonzalez, his choice of food was also frequently mocked.
Beyond the allegations of direct anti-Semitism, Reznik also said he was treated poorly in a general sense, often forced to work on Jewish holidays. Reznik, who is 6 feet, 5 inches tall, repeatedly asked to be moved from a small police car to a van where he could sit comfortably, and was usually rebuffed.
Reznik is a member of Shomrim, a union of Jewish police officers — shomrim is Hebrew for guardians. Howard Lebofsky, president of Shomrim, provided this statement regarding the suit: “Shomrim strongly condemns and actively opposes all forms of illegal discrimination, including but not limited to anti-Semitism in the workplace. We take this position regardless of the source or form it takes, as there is no place and no justification whatsoever for illegal discrimination and anti-Semitism in civilized society. Anti-Semitism is a destructive force against Jews everywhere and all civilization and must be actively opposed whenever and wherever it occurs.”
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