CALDWELL, Idaho — Police are now investigating graffiti sprayed on the outside of Caldwell High School as a gang-related act, and no longer believe the incident was "motivated by hate," according to a news release Friday night.
The words "white power" were spray-painted onto the side of the building, along with other symbols that covered a wall, windows, and doors.
Caldwell Police on Thursday said the vandalism was under investigation as a hate crime, per Idaho code. Now, detectives believe the graffiti was sprayed "as an act of intimidation between two rival Hispanic criminal street gangs."
Four people wearing dark hoodies and facemasks were seen on security cameras around 1:15 a.m. Thursday morning after arriving in a white four-door car. On Friday, Caldwell Police said they now believe eight people were involved, with a second dark-colored truck or SUV arriving at the high school shortly after the first group.
The incident came two days after a students held a 'Brown Pride' rally at the school. A "Brown Pride" hoodie was the subject of controversy after a student at Caldwell High was asked to turn the hoodie inside-out so the words were not visible.
The school district said the phrase goes against school policy, and the language violates dress code by being gang-affiliated.
Students said the phrase is an expression of culture and heritage. More than 50 students showed up for what they called a peaceful protest Tuesday morning.
Based on its investigation, the Caldwell Police Department said the graffiti was likely a "diversion tactic" used by the individuals to avoid police and take advantage of the 'Brown Pride' rally.
"It is common for gang members to vandalize property in their attempt to create fear and intimidation within the community," police said in a news release Friday.
If you have information about this crime you are asked to call 343-COPS or non-emergency dispatch at 454-7531.
Caldwell Chief of Police Rex Ingram provided the following statement in Friday's update:
“I am proud of the investigative effort given by our detectives in this matter, who quickly determined this incident to not be a hate crime. Unfortunately, this incident has already affected the lives of many in our community. This appeared to be an organized act of violence by cowardly members of a local criminal street gang who attempted to cause panic, fear and intimidation. I promise that when we catch the suspects, the public will be able to see who they are because they won’t be able to hide behind a hood or mask in a booking photograph."
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