Reporting hate crimes allows the public, researchers, law enforcement and community leaders to develop preventative measures, the FBI says.
WESTFIELD, NJ — The hateful graffiti recently found at Edison Intermediate School targeted a number of groups of people, school officials said.
The officials had strongly condemned the hateful messages found at the school Nov. 29 and at a school board meeting Dec. 4 said that they included more than a swastika.
“There were hateful messages regarding various groups of people,” Schools Superintendent Margaret Dolan said. “If it had been a swastika, had it been completely anti-Semitic, I would have had no problem saying what it was.”
School Board President Gretchan Ohlig defended the district’s communications notifying the public on the day hateful graffiti was found.
“Some of the words that were written are foul and nasty,” Ohlig said. “How do you pull out one and not list them all?” The graffiti included a series of hateful words and symbols written on a wall, she said.
“This is a community issue. We need to acknowledge it, and we are one part of a group of very different leaders who have to put on their armor for the battle,” Ohlig said.
No charges have been lodged or arrests made in connection with the incident, Union County Prosecutor's Office spokesman Mark Spivey said in an email on Monday.
Authorities responded to the school on the day of the incident, Town spokeswoman Kim Forde said.
Where the incident occurred in the school, what groups of people were targeted, in addition to the number of words and symbols defacing school property have not been made public.
The town denied a request under the state’s Open Public Records Act for incident reports and investigation reports detailing the response of the Westfield Police Department and other law enforcement agencies to Edison Intermediate School on Nov. 29.
The town cited an exemption under OPRA for ongoing investigations.
“Any records pertaining to an investigation in progress by any public agency if disclosure of such record or records shall be detrimental to the public interest,” the exemption states.
President of the Dr. Martin Luther King Association of Westfield Elizabeth Wolf called on local officials to address the matter.
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“We are very concerned, and we really do call on our school officials and town officials to address this, and we believe that they are,” Wolf said.
“There has been some desire for more details: what exactly were the hateful things, and I can understand that, but I understand they are police matters as well.”
In a joint statement released Monday evening, school and municipal officials said they will continue to take legal and disciplinary actions.
“As members of the Town Council and the Board of Education, and more importantly as residents of Westfield and parents of children in the Westfield schools, we are deeply disturbed by the recent acts of hate appearing in our schools and elsewhere in surrounding communities,” the statement said.
“We would like to reiterate our joint commitment in condemning all acts of racism, anti-Semitism, bigotry, and expressions of hatred targeting any minority group, religion, or ideology. Hate has absolutely no place in our schools or in our community at large and will not be tolerated.”
The officials declined to provide additional details on the incident, which is the second bias incident reported to have occurred in a Westfield school this year, following a swastika found in a bathroom at Franklin Elementary School on Oct. 3.
Westfield is not alone in seeing recent bias incidents. In the days following the swastika found at Franklin School Oct. 3, hateful graffiti, including a swastika and a reference to Westfield, were spray-painted on the outside of Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School.
In Summit, school officials said they had found swastikas and other offensive drawings inside of a bathroom at Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School just before the Thanksgiving weekend. The announcement came late in November.
In 2017, FBI data showed 495 hate crimes across New Jersey, with 155 law enforcement agencies submitting reports. Nationwide, law enforcement agencies reported 17 percent more hate crimes compared with the prior year: 7,175 hate crimes, up from 6,121 in 2016, the FBI data show.
The FBI encourages local law enforcement to submit such data to the Uniform Crime Reporting system.
“Reporting hate crime data to the UCR Program allows the public, researchers, community leaders, and local government to raise awareness of the issue and gain a more accurate picture of hate crimes,” the FBI said in a statement accompanying the release of 2017 data.
“It also allows law enforcement agencies to develop data-focused strategies and preventative measures.”
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