Mayor: Asheville bomb threat a 'hate crime'

ASHEVILLE - A bomb threat called in to the Jewish Community Center on Charlotte Street was a hate crime, Mayor Esther Manheimer said Tuesday.

That's something police have not said yet, but is something officers are looking into, a police spokeswoman said Monday.

Manheimer, who noted at Tuesday's council meeting that she is Jewish, made the remarks just before the City Council unanimously passed a resolution denouncing threats to people of Jewish faith. The resolution was not on the council's printed agenda and was added after a Monday morning incident in which a caller told a center receptionist there was a bomb at the center, according to the director of the facility often called just the "JCC." The threat was one in a wave of similar incidents across the country.

"We quickly wanted to put together a statement regarding this hate crime, in my mind," the mayor said.

Jewish sites reported 31 threats Monday; more than 100 in '17

No bomb was found at the center. The Asheville JCC has children's education programs including for infants but they weren't in session Monday because of a teacher workday.

A report of the incident was passed on to the FBI, police said Monday. Police spokeswoman Christina Hallingse said officers will have to investigate further to determine whether the incident was a hate crime or act of terrorism.

Hallingse didn't respond immediately Wednesday morning to an email asking if there had been any determination yet.

In the resolution, which the mayor read aloud, the council said "these incidents are part of several waves of threats and vandalism against centers of Jewish faith that have occurred over the past few months."

On Feb. 27 there were 31 incidents of bomb threats called in to 23 Jewish community centers and eight Jewish day schools in 16 states and Calgary, Canada, according to the JCC Association of North America, the resolution said.

"We take great pride in being a welcoming and diverse community where all citizens can live and work without fear of physical violence, threats or intimidation," the resolution said.

Afterward, Manheimer added that she thought the council "has been quick to step up whenever we’ve seen acts of hatred targeting anyone and we want to show our support this time for the Jewish community in particular."

In December the council passed a broad resolution against "discrimination and intimidation."

The mayor said local Jewish community groups had hosted the Anti-Defamation League to talk about ways to deal with the threats.

On the national stage, President Donald Trump first questioned the authenticity of the bomb threats in a private Tuesday meeting with attorney generals, but then opened his Tuesday night State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress by condemning the flood of anti-Semitic attacks and other racially motivated crimes.

Along with centers and schools, desecration of Jewish cemeteries have also been reported.

"Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries," Trump said, "remind us that, while we are a country that disagrees on policy, we stand united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms."