KENOSHA, Wis. — Kenosha police slapped a man with $4,300 in fines after they say he put up anti-Semitic flyers on vehicle windshields, driveways, and walkways.
But the citations are not specifically for anti-Semitism. The 23 citations issued to the 56-year-old Kenosha man are for violations of the city’s ordinance 11.02U.
That’s for littering.
Here’s how it is described: “Throw, place or deposit any paper, glass, bottle, cans, containers, grass clippings, rubbish, waste, filth or other debris upon private property without consent of the owner or occupant, or upon the streets, alleys, highways, sidewalks, parks, or beaches, or into any pond, stream, river or lake.”
Each citation carries a $187 fine, so that adds up to $4,301. The man – who was not named by police in a statement on Friday – can fight the citations in municipal court.
Kenosha police explained in the statement that officers began an investigation into allegedly anti-Semetic flyers in December of 2021.
Police say technically a flyer is a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment. But residents expressed their concerns and even asked if the distribution “qualified as a hate crime.”
“It does not, pursuant to WI § 939.645 which covers crimes committed against certain people or property,” police responded. “Recognizing the fear and concerns surrounding the flyer distribution, KPD committed to continuing the investigation, which we did.”
On Thursday, police issued the citations to the man. They did not say what changed from December to August.
The FBI defines hate crimes as “criminal offenses against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”
The US Department of Justice reports an average of 250,000 hate crimes were committed yearly between 2004 and 2015 in the United States. But that the majority of the crimes were not reported to law enforcement.
Some in the community say the littering charge is not strict enough.
Kenosha resident Marilyn Propp picked up an anti-Semitic flyer months ago and fear set in.
“The flyers come from a long history of accusing the Jews of anything and everything to ferment hatred, and hatred leads to violence, and that’s terrifying,” she said.
As a Jewish woman, she says now she is still terrified and is now furious to learn that the man that police say is responsible for placing these flyers throughout the community is being ticketed for littering, instead of for a hate crime.
Rabbi Dena Feingold of Beth Hillel Temple says she knew all along that the man would be arrested for littering. She says she is “delighted” police caught the person responsible for the “disturbing” act and understands why this wasn’t charged as a hate crime.
“There is the first amendment that protects people from even from saying horrible things,” said Feingold.
TMJ4’s Ryan Jenkins spoke with Kenosha area attorney John Ward, who gave his expert perspective on the law.
“The problem is you run a very fine line between protected speech and behavior they want to punish,” said Ward.
He said it all comes down to motive.
“Hate crime isn’t punishing thought or speech. It’s punishing the action of actually committing a crime,” he said.
Meanwhile, Feingold says the Jewish community is now coming together to prevent more hate in the future. They’ve formed a rapid response team that will respond and collect flyers if more are distributed.
Still, Propp argues there should be a tougher response from police and community leaders.
“I had distant cousins killed in the Holocaust. This is not a simple thing. This is not littering. This is a hate crime,” she said.
The above report is an update to a story TMJ4 first reported in May of 2022. Read our initial reporting below.
Earlier this year, NBC News reported antisemitic fliers had been found in at least three U.S. cities: Denver, San Francisco and Miami. Now, similar fliers have been found outside of Kenosha homes on at least two occasions.
Marilyn Propp moved from Chicago to Kenosha about five years ago. She was walking to a friend’s house in February when she saw a bag filled with rice and a piece of paper on the sidewalk.
“I picked it up and I opened it and it was this horrible screed, this horrible antisemitic piece of paper blaming Jews for Covid. Listing all the Jews in government that are behind this conspiracy and I just went cold inside,” Propp said.
She said she called the Rabbi and Beth Hillel Temple. She was told they had heard of many others in the community finding the notes and were collecting them to give to the police.
Propp said that since moving to Kenosha, she’s always felt safe in the community, but finding the antisemitic message made her fearful.
“I felt really targeted and really afraid and really angry. Wondering why, why these people are targeting regular, normal people,” Propp said. “I did lose distant cousins in the Holocaust. My whole family is Jewish.”
Over this past weekend, Propp said she saw even more Kenosha community members posting in the app NextDoor about finding more notes. The ones found over the last few days made claims about the media being Jewish.
Propp said it’s shocking to know these messages are being spread in a smaller city like Kenosha.
“To find it is a really frightening intrusion on our life here,” she said. “That you would be a target of hate, it doesn’t make sense. It’s shocking. This is not Germany in 1940.”
Earlier this year, the Milwaukee Jewish Federation released a report about antisemitism in Wisconsin. Although a slight dip in antisemitic incidents overall was reported, it did note an increase in incidents at Wisconsin schools.
Kenosha police said on Tuesday that they have had 12 different ‘distributions,’ mostly located on the southeast side. The fliers are all anti-Semitic and have been nearly identical in all 12 distributions, police said.
“That is part of what we are trying to figure out as well as who is responsible. We have collected all of the fliers and continue to investigate,” police said in an email.