Police Investigating Repeated Vandalism of Collingswood Karate Studio


Pride flags have been stolen repeatedly from Kenkojuku Karate in the past nine months. Sunday, its window was smashed hours before a scheduled vigil for a nonbinary child. Sensei Andrew Faupel struggles to make sense of it all while local authorities pursue justice.

By Matt Skoufalos | March 5, 2024

Sensei Andrew Faupel at Kenkojuku Karate, where the dojo has sustained a broken front window. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

After nearly nine months of repeated incidents, it’s hard for Andrew Faupel to not feel like he’s being targeted.

Faupel, the longtime operator of Kenkojuku Karate in Collingswood, awoke early Sunday to calls from police that his business had been vandalized.

He arrived to the storefront at 614 Haddon Avenue around 4:30 in the morning March 3 to see the front of his double-pane display window shattered by a fragmented piece of cement.

Although Faupel is uncertain what prompted the damage, it’s not the first — or even the second — time his dojo has been vandalized in the past year.

In June 2023, a Pride flag that Kenkojuku had displayed outside the business was stolen. The next day, it was replaced, and the studio received two more Pride flags from an anonymous sender.

“Didn’t think anything of it; just replaced it,” Faupel said.

The second time the flag was stolen, in November 2023, the offender(s) broke the flagpole in the theft, preventing Faupel from replacing it as easily.

That incident ran fairly closely to the installation of a rainbow crosswalk across the street from Kenkojuku (which was itself vandalized with paint, and restored thereafter), leading Faupel to presume a connection between the two.

In response, Kenkojuku rallied its students for a photograph in the crosswalk, standing in the colored spaces that corresponded with their belt ranks.

“I wanted to make a stand for this dojo and the community, and say, ‘We stand up against this kind of bullying and hate,” Faupel said. “We’re going to show you that there’s strength as well as beauty from this.”

Faupel had purchased a new flagpole at the Philadelphia Flower Show over the weekend so that he could rehang a Pride flag outside the dojo for Sunday.

File photo (2016). A child lights a candle at a Collingswood vigil for victims of the PULSE nightclub shooting in Orlando. Credit: Tricia Burrough.

The timing was significant because Collingswood Area Queer Connections was hosting a vigil for Nex Benedict, a non-binary Oklahoma high-schooler who was beaten to death last month, across the street.

Organizers of the vigil had even consulted with Kenkojuku about using its sidewalk for crowd overflow at the event, if necessary.

Although the damage to the studio is under investigation, Collingswood Police Chief Kevin Carey said that initial evidence does not explicitly elevate it to the threshold of a bias crime.

Nonetheless, Faupel can’t imagine another reason why his business is now being consistently vandalized after more than 20 years in the community.

“I don’t know if it’s related to the flag, or related to our support of everybody, but we are definitely targeted for this,” Faupel said. “I’m not sure exactly why anyone would target us, but it’s clear someone was targeting our specific location. It seems very unusual to me that somebody would take that type of action.”

Despite the lack of confirmation, Jim DeSimone, vice-president of Collingswood PFLAG, a local chapter of the national LGBTQ+ advocacy group, said it’s “clearly, without a doubt, something that we all realize was targeted for a specific reason.”

After Kenkojuku had its flag stolen in late 2023, Collingswood PFLAG installed several Pride Progress flags in the 500 and 600 block of Haddon Avenue that same weekend.

“We thought it was important to make sure that it was clear to everyone in the community that Collingswood is a place of acceptance and affirmation,” DeSimone said.

At the same time, he said, the local LGBTQ+ community, which organized Sunday’s vigil, is similarly hard-pressed to ignore the timing of the vandalism at the dojo.

Girl Scout Madeline Forrest of Collingswood and Tim Gregory of Collingswood DPW. Forrest conceived of the rainbow crosswalk as her Girl Scout Gold Award project; Gregory painted it, and then repainted it after it was vandalized. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

“We may never be able to prove that [they’re related], but that doesn’t change how people feel,” he said.

“It was really upsetting to the people at the vigil when they learned what occurred.”

DeSimone also said mourners at the vigil experienced first-hand catcalls from people who drove by a couple of times to yell slurs at them.

Although nobody there escalated the moment to a confrontation, it seemed to underscore the necessity of their community organizing, he said.

“I certainly don’t think that we want to instill fear in people, and I think that fear is a natural emotional response to things like this,” DeSimone said. “Parents of trans and nonbinary siblings hear these things, including what happened with Nex; that triggers fear within us.

“Those of us who are LGBTQ+ can’t forget that there’s hatred in this world,” he said. “But there is strength in the numbers of people who are supportive and loving. We are incredibly fortunate in New Jersey, and especially in Collingswood, that we live in such a loving and affirming community.”

For those bothered by the weight of the events, DeSimone encouraged them to “know who our community is, know who our supports are, and know how to access those supports in the community.

“We didn’t ask for our lives to be political, but other people make it that way,” he said.

Collingswood Commissioner Morgan Robinson, who identifies as lesbian, said that the borough is taking the events of the weekend very seriously.

“Collingswood has long been a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community,” Robinson said. “We have to keep our vulnerable population safe, and show, in a strong way, that hate has no place here.”

PFLAG Collingswood marches in the 2021 Haddon Township Pride Parade. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

From the borough perspective, Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley said that the “A-Number-One thing we want to do is get the people who are doing it.”

Beyond that police work, the mayor said, the Collingswood LGBTQ+ community can take heart in knowing that its leadership stands behind them.

“Whoever’s out there doing this, they can rest assured that whatever they do will be promptly restored, and it won’t change,” Maley said.

“Doing damage to a thing is not going to damage our commitment to the people.”

Faupel struck a similar tone Monday afternoon as he fielded messages of support from various members of the borough community.

“I’ve seen a lot; I’ve not been shocked very often,” he said. “Clearly, I’m mad, but I’m pretty controlled in my emotions. I hope we catch who did it.

“This in no way deters us from our mission,” Faupel said. “The morning this happened, a couple hours later, class went on.”

Likewise, Faupel said the incident offers the opportunity for the Kenkojuku community to model the moral lessons its students are taught in classes there.

“You get knocked down, you stand back up again,” he said. “We’re always going to stand up for what we think is right. The right thing to do is to be against bullies, and be for everybody.”

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