Update (May 21): The charges against Antoine Guyton earlier this were rescinded because further investigation into the defacing of the Israeli Flag on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway resulted in the identification of at least one additional suspect, said the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office in a press release on May 18.
The office shared a video that shows the additional suspect spraying the flag with red dye or paint. The press release notes that this additional suspect is clearly the first person to spray the flag. The District Attorney’s Office is preparing an affidavit for Guyton’s re-arrest.
Update (May 17): Ben Waxman, director of communications for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, said the charges against Antoine Guyton have been rescinded at this time, but it is still an active investigation. The office had no further comment.
Original story (May 16):
On the afternoon of May 15, people headed down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway may have passed by an Israeli flag defaced with red paint.
And some — like Laura Frank, public relations manager for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia — witnessed the defacing incident and subsequent arrest of the suspect, 26-year-old Antoine Guyton of Philadelphia. He was charged with institutional vandalism, criminal mischief and related offenses.
Around 3:40 p.m., Abbey Frank, Jewish Federation’s director of program operations, received a call from a Jewish Federation volunteer who said they had heard the Israeli flag had been defaced. Abbey Frank contacted Laura Frank and Robin Schatz, the Jewish Federation director of government affairs.
The three decided to check out the flag for themselves before contacting the police. They arrived there just before 4 p.m.
“We were approaching, and we were expecting just to see a damaged flag,” Laura Frank said. “As we were getting close, we saw that that there was someone standing under the flag holding a paintball gun, who was actively shooting at the flag.”
She already had her phone out to take a picture of the flag, so she got a photo of the man as well. As she looked on, the man dropped the paintball gun in a trash can in front of the flag and ran away.
“We were absolutely stunned,” Laura Frank continued. “We were expecting to see some damage to the flag, and we were already upset by the flag, but to see it in action was just incredibly disconcerting and made us a little fearful and very angry.”
Laura Frank immediately called the police and alerted local media. The police showed up about 10 minutes later, she said. As she was speaking to the police, she saw the man again across the street, coming around the corner. She pointed him out to the police, who approached him and arrested him. She noted that he had red paint on him.
“Everyone was just completely stunned by it,” she said.
As the situation develops and the Philadelphia Police Department investigates, Laura Frank said the Jewish Federation will work with the police. She also said the Jewish Federation and its security team believes the man was not working alone and is perhaps connected to protests that happened earlier in the week at City Hall.
“On Monday, there were a lot of protests,” she said. “There was a lot of passion. There was some angst on both sides. There were some people who were angry they raised an Israeli flag at City Hall with the mayor. … The Jewish Federation, we’ve always supported freedom of speech and encouraged dialogue, encouraged constructive dialogue and to bring people together and to learn. What happened yesterday was absolutely shameful and wrong. It does nothing. It threatens the Jewish community. It’s a detriment to our Jewish community as a whole, and it prevents us from being able to come together and work on it.”
In a statement, Mayor Jim Kenney said that hate and anti-Semitism have no place in Philadelphia.
“While I understand that emotions are running high and there are many viewpoints stemming from recent violence against Palestinians and other protesters in the Gaza Strip, it doesn’t warrant hateful acts of vandalism,” he said. “Fortunately, due to the swift work of the Philadelphia Police Department, as well as concerned residents, a suspect was placed into custody shortly after this incident occurred.”
This is a developing story.