State Rep. Nima Kulkarni spoke at a news conference of city leaders denouncing the vandalism of the Swaminarayan Temple. | Photo by Joe Sonka

City leaders have denounced an apparent hate crime directed at a Hindu temple earlier this week, as it was broken into and desecrated with graffiti.

At some point between Sunday night and Tuesday morning, officials said, one or more vandals broke into the Swaminarayan Temple in Buechel and spray painted vulgar insults directed at foreigners and crosses with references to Jesus.

Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Greg Fischer held a news conference at the temple to denounce the vandalism committed by “the cowards” as antithetical to Louisville’s values of compassion and inclusion.

“Our city is a proud and diverse city, we’re a welcoming city, we’re a global city, we’re a compassionate city,” said Fischer. “Any time we see hatred and bigotry in our city, we will stand up and speak against it.”

One of several spray-painted messages in the vandalism of the Swaminarayn Temple | Photo by Joe Sonka

To show unity with Louisville’s Hindu and immigrant community, Fischer and temple leaders welcomed residents to come to the Temple Saturday morning between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. to help clean up, paint over the vandalism and “send a message to the world that Louisville is a great and compassionate city.”

State Rep. Nima Kulkarni — who was elected in November as the first Indian American in the history of the Kentucky General Assembly — said the vandalism was an “act of intimidation designed to weaken our faith and community.”

“I know that we’re better than this,” said Kulkarni, noting how her family of immigrants was welcomed to Louisville in 1986. “I know our community is stronger than this, and I ask all of our community to show up and stand up against these acts on Saturday.”

Raj Patel of the Swaminarayan Temple thanked city leaders for their support and invited Louisvillians of any faith to visit the temple on Saturday, as they “share the common foundation of being good to others.”

“We come here to worship,” said Patel. “We should not have to turn our backs to see who is behind us, but we should be happy to come here and worship in peace.”

LMPD Chief Steve Conrad called the desecration of the temple “heartbreaking” and said “we have too many meetings like this in our community,” referencing a similar vandalism of a mosque in 2015.

“What I’m here to do today is to assure everyone that attends this temple that we will do our best to find and hold accountable the person or persons who committed this vandalism and this hate crime,” said Conrad. “Second, I want to assure everyone who attends the temple that we will be here Saturday to help clean up this mess, but we’ll be here Sunday to make sure you are safe and you can come to worship and not have to look over your shoulder.”

LMPD spokeswoman Jessie Halladay told Insider Louisville that a hate crime under state law is an enhancement to an offense, with the Commonwealth Attorney’s office making that determination. LMPD will present all the evidence gathered in this crime is “listing it as a hate crime in our reporting because it appears to target a specific group,” according to Halladay.

In addition to broken glass and numerous spray painted messages, a knife was stuck through one of the chairs in the main room of worship at the temple.

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]