'This is an unacceptable thing': Community is up in arms after neighbor installs giant swastika in front yard

Mahira Dayal

Some neighbors are upset after a man installed a huge, black concrete swastika symbol in his front yard.

Steve Johnson — long-time resident of an El Sobrante, Calif. neighborhood claimed that the display is for aesthetic purposes, and was never intended to be offensive. "It doesn’t represent anything," Johnson told NBC Bay Area. "That represents me not having to pull weeds over in that part of my yard; that’s what it represents to me. What does it represent to you?"

In a different interview, he indicated that the display has historic significance, but is not a Nazi symbol. “I like those signs, I think they look cool,” he told ABC7. “It’s a Tibetan sign that’s way back before swastikas were invented.”

Some neighbors weren’t buying it and were convinced that it meant more than Johnson was letting on. Renee Schultz, a Jewish woman who has been Johnson’s neighbor for 27 years thought the swastika was problematic.

“Yes!” neighbor Renee Schultz affirmed to ABC7 when they asked her if she found it offensive. “On behalf of the Jews that died with that — yes, absolutely.” "I was very clear with him about my feelings," she added to NBC Bay Area. "I don’t agree with it; I think it’s wrong. I don’t like it, but it is his yard."

Community members are also worried that the symbol has tainted their El Sobrante neighborhood, and will impact children and their families, reported CBS Local.

Although people have expressed their concerns, authorities are unable to take action. In a statement provided to NBC Bay Area, Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia said the county doesn't have the ability to force Johnson to remove the symbol. He instead asked people to speak out against what could be perceived as a symbol of hate.

"This is an unacceptable thing because of what this stands for and how people perceive the symbol," Gioia told NBC Bay Area. ABC7 added that law enforcement says they're not investigating. A Bay Area-based group, ADL San Francisco — which aims to stop the defamation of Jewish people — also tweeted about the incident, urging Johnson to remove the sign.

While there has been backlash, some community members don’t believe that Johnson had bad intentions. Neighbor, Vince Poehnelt, told NBC Bay area that he has known Johnson since childhood and while upset, he’s convinced that Johnson is not trying to hurt anyone.

"I consider the guy harmless," Poehnelt said. "Maybe he’s a little too lazy to be a full-blown neo-Nazi." Mary Salinas, another neighbor agreed, and told ABC7 that Johnson is always nice to everyone. She said “I look at his behavior and attitude towards us — we’ve never had a problem with him.”

A Twitter user felt the same way, and responded to ADL San Francisco’s tweet, indicating that it might be time to view the swastika as the symbol is started out as, instead of the sign of hate that it has become.

“Maybe it is time to talk about swastikas because they aren't actually offensive to ‘all others.’” commented Jana Monji. “The swastika is an old traditional symbol used in many Asian religions and even Native American traditions. Swastikas are also traditional family crests in Japan.”

Johnson has not removed the sign, and it is unclear whether any action will, or can be taken. "I own this house I'll put what I want. It ain't none of your guys' business,” Johnson told ABC7.

Renee Schultz did not immediately reply to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment.

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