Vandalism at UM regent's law office investigated as hate crime

Originally posted by The Detroit News

Vandals targeted the Southfield law office of a University of Michigan regent early Monday, painting hate messages on the building's front exterior and sidewalk.

Southfield police discovered the vandalism Monday morning at the Goodman Acker Law Firm on 10 Mile Road. It's being investigated as a hate crime, according to a news release from the firm.

Graffiti and damage to the property were discovered by employees arriving for work, and the firm called it an "appalling antisemitic attack." Based on the evidence, it appears to be a hate crime, and Southfield police will investigate, said city Community Relations director Michael Manion on Monday.

Spray paint on the sidewalk in front of the office and building's facade read, "Free Palestine," "Divest Now," "UM Kills," "F--- you Acker," and "Divest or F--- off." Large splotches of red paint covered the firm's sign.

University of Michigan Regent Jordan Acker, who is Jewish, is a partner at the firm and said his first reaction was to call his colleagues on the board of regents and see who else was targeted.

"I had the horrific realization that no one else was," Acker said. "Singling out Jews for special treatment for attack is, by definition, antisemitism. And that's exactly what this is."

Acker said his office is in a primarily Orthodox Jewish neighborhood and the vandalism sends a clear and despicable message.

"The reality is that this does not make us any closer to freeing Palestine or ending the war in Gaza," Acker said. "All it does is seeks to intimidate Jews."

The UM Board of Regents has faced rising pressure from student activists to divest from companies contributing to Israel's war with Hamas. Most recently, a pro-Palestinian student coalition set up an encampment on the University of Michigan Diag for four weeks to demand divestment.

The encampment was forcibly cleared last month and four people were arrested, three of whom were students. Two people were taken to the hospital to be treated after getting pepper sprayed by police.

The board of regents has maintained its 20-year policy of shielding the $17.9 billion endowment from political pressure, and Acker confirmed Monday that they are not engaging in divestment.

"I think people need to take a really serious look at the mirror and make sure ... that they understand the difference between political activism and criminal intimidation and violent conduct, and not engage in the second," Acker said.

Acker said he'd be happy to engage with people who address the Board of Regents at its meetings or have one-on-one conversations with students and faculty.

"I will not be intimidated and harassed," Acker said. "And most importantly, I will not engage with groups who call for the death of anyone who supports the existence of the state of Israel. That is simply not tolerable."

Earlier in May protesters taped documents listing demands for divestment from Israel to the doors of all eight UM regents' homes, including Acker, and put tents and body bags on the property of Regent Sarah Hubbard while chanting "Regent Hubbard you can't hide, you are funding genocide." Acker posted on X about a masked intruder going to the door of his home in the early hours of the morning with a list of demands and said he would not be intimidated.

"This is well beyond the pale of acceptable behavior," Acker said of the vandalism. "I hope deeply that it is not someone affiliated with the University of Michigan, because I really deeply hope that no student or staff or faculty member would engage in behavior that's both stupid, counterproductive and criminal."

The eight-month-long war began when Hamas militants launched a surprise incursion into Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking another 250 hostages. Since then Israel has killed over 36,000 Palestinians, a majority of whom are women and children, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, which doesn't distinguish between militant and civilian deaths.

Acker said he's received support from several local officials, including leaders of the Arab American community, following the vandalism and dozens of people have volunteered to power wash the building.

"Leaders who have been silent as the Jewish community has raised the alarm about this for months and months and months and now see this today and decide to remain quiet are remaining complicit with antisemitic behavior," Acker said. "This is wrong. It's not even a close call. This is wrong. It is criminal, and it is antisemitic."

U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Birmingham, and Michigan Deputy Secretary of State Aghogho Edevbie both expressed support for Acker on social media and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer denounced the vandalism in a statement issued Monday.

"Michigan has been a place where people from all backgrounds, religions, and cultures have lived together peacefully for decades," Whitmer said. "Violence, vandalism, threats, and intimidation are unacceptable, and what we saw today in Southfield is abhorrent. We must remain united in calling out hatred of any kind and continue working together toward peace in Michigan."