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 a suspect, 26-year-old Antoine Guyton of Philadelphia. He was charged with institutional vandalism, criminal mischief and related offenses at the time.
On May 17, these charges were rescinded. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office said that further investigation revealed there was an additional suspect who also sprayed the flag with red paint that day. The DA’s Office posted a video of that suspect and asked that anyone with information contact Central Detectives at 215-686-3093 or 215-686-3094. The office is planning on writing another affidavit for the re-arrest of Guyton but stressed that the new suspect is the priority.
“The main thing that we really need help with right now, honestly, is not that initial suspect,” said Ben Waxman, director of communications at the Philadelphia DA’s Office. “We need help identifying the guy who was caught on camera actually spraying the flag. That video is posted on our website. It’s been shared fairly widely. We need help from the public in identifying that suspect because that suspect is clearly the main perpetrator at this point.”
The flag was replaced by 10 p.m. on May 15 after the rain subsided, the Mayor’s Office of Communications confirmed.
Earlier in the day, 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 heard the Israeli flag had been defaced. Abbey Frank contacted Laura Frank and Robin Schatz, the Jewish Federation’s director of government affairs.
The three checked out the flag for themselves before contacting the police. They arrived there just before 4 p.m.
The Philadelphia Police Department Office of Media Relations/Public Affairs said the man seen defacing the flag was using a Super Soaker water gun filled with a red substance.
When Laura Frank arrived at the scene, she already had her phone out, so she took a photo of the man. As she watched, the man dropped the water gun in a trash can in front of the flag and ran away.
“We were absolutely stunned,” Laura Frank said. “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, and, as she was speaking to them, she saw the man again across the street. She pointed him out to the police, who arrested him. She noted that he had red paint on him.
“Everyone was just completely stunned by it,” she said.
Laura Frank said the Jewish Federation and its security team believe the incident is perhaps connected to protests that happened earlier in the week at City Hall.
On May 14, the Jewish Federation held a flag raising for Israel’s 70th birthday at Philadelphia City Hall. Members of the Jewish community and local officials, such as Mayor Jim Kenney and Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) attended the flag raising. A group of Jewish Voice for Peace-led protesters were also there.
The flag raising coincided with the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, as well as with a clash on the Gaza border that left 58 Palestinians dead.
“On Monday, there were a lot of protests,” Laura Frank 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 [May 15] 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.”