Pittsburgh Police arrested David Aul, 38, on May 8 after he choked a victim in a Murray Avenue store.
Aul reportedly was observed over the last several weeks walking along Murray Avenue and near Hillel Academy in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood exhibiting disturbing behavior, according to Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh Community Security Director Shawn Brokos. His actions became increasingly erratic and included making antisemitic comments before the attack, she said.
Aul’s arrest is the fourth in less than a year by suspects targeting the Jewish community in Squirrel Hill. In September 2021, Tyrone Correll was arrested for simple assault, harassment and ethnic intimidation. Andrew Clinton was arrested April 4 for a string of burglaries, many of which targeted the Jewish community. Christian Williams was arrested on April 17 for making antisemitic comments and threats.
Brokos said there are no known connections between those arrested.
The arrests come amid growing concern about antisemitic attacks both in Western Pennsylvania and nationally.
According to a report released earlier this month by the Anti-Defamation League, last year the region experienced the most antisemitic incidents since the organization began tracking them in 1979.
Western Pennsylvania experienced an 82% increase in harassment, vandalism and assault against Jewish individuals. Twenty incidents were in 2021.
The nation, too, saw the number of antisemitic incidents reach an all-time high, according to the ADL. In 2021, there were 2,717 incidents or, on average, seven incidents a day. The 34% increase year-over-year is the largest incident total since the organization began tracking.
“There’s no indication those numbers are slowing down,” said James Pasch, regional director of ADL’s Cleveland Regional Office, which serves Western Pennsylvania.
Brokos said that the ADL report mirrors what has been reported in Pittsburgh. While the ADL report tracked harassment, vandalism and assault, she said Federation tracks all regional antisemitic incidents.
“There were 44 incidents in 2020; in 2021, there were 82,” she said. “Year-to-date, we are at 34 in 2022, which is closing to surpassing what we had in 2022.”
Aul’s arrest brings that number to 35.
The spate of antisemitic activity, she noted, was making some Jewish community members feel less safe in Squirrel Hill.
“There is something going on,” Brokos said. “We are being targeted. What’s this all about? I’m not sure, but it’s certainly antisemitic and there is a mental health component.”
That feeling reflects what many American Jews are experiencing, Pasch said.
“In our latest survey, American Jews are more concerned about antisemitism in the United States than before,” he said. “Sixty percent had themselves either witnessed behavior or comments that they personally deemed to be antisemitic.”
Antisemitism is often an underpinning for other hate crimes, Pasch said, calling it “the canary in the coal mine.”
His comments, made in reference to the ADL report, proved prescient.
On May 14, an avowed antisemite and white supremacist killed 10 in Buffalo, New York. The killer was allegedly motivated by Replacement Theory, or the idea that white Christians would be replaced by immigrants.
In a manifesto he wrote, the killer said Jews are the real problem, but that “they can be dealt with in time.”
Pasch said the rising tide of antisemitism is a warning sign, “our societal norms are clearly frayed,” he said.
Aul is in custody waiting to be arraigned. Both Correll and Williams recently had their cases moved from City Court to Criminal Court. No trial date has been set for either.
Brokos urged community members to remain alert and vigilant and to continue ongoing security training to remain as prepared as possible in light of the current upsurge in antisemitic threats. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at email@example.com