WESTFIELD, NJ — The high school principal and a town commission aimed at countering hate were scheduled to talk Friday after authorities discovered two swastikas etched in a bathroom stall at Westfield High School and a prominent Jewish leader called for the mayor to take a stronger stance against antisemitism.
In a joint statement with Westfield Human Relations Advisory Commission Chairwoman Alexis Jemal Thursday, Mayor Shelley Brindle spoke out against the act of hate, which police said they are investigating and school officials have already strongly condemned. The swastikas were reported to police March 19 and before Thursday's statement, no town official had publicly denounced the bias crime — one that is part of a recurring pattern.
“We are aware that reports of swastikas and other racist vandalism in the schools throughout our district are not new and we, first and foremost, categorically denounce these bias incidents,” Brindle and Jemal said. “Hate crimes, as we sadly know, are on the rise nationally, and Westfield is not immune. A swastika, which represents hate and anti-Semitism, is antithetical to the ideals and morals of both WHS and our greater community.”
Brindle and Jemal said the commission would be meeting Friday with the Westfield High School principal “to determine how HRAC and WHS can join forces towards our mutual goal of eradicating hate of any kind.” In 2020, swastikas were also found in Tamaques and Brightwood parks and twice at Westfield High School.
This week, the swastikas prompted school officials’ public condemnation after the incident was listed in a weekly police blotter Tuesday morning and the school’s principal notified parents by email.
At a town council meeting that night, and in a letter published by The Westfield Leader Thursday, Brindle pledged “zero tolerance for bias incidents” and expressed her support for the Asian American community and the Westfield Area Chinese American Association in the wake of last week’s shootings in Georgia that killed eight people, including six Asian women.
The Atlanta area shootings came amid a dramatic rise in anti-Asian bias during the pandemic and Brindle shared that two families in Westfield have been targeted by anti-Asian bigotry. She did not discuss the swastikas.
Dov Ben-Shimon, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, which represents and provides services and programs for Jewish communities in North Jersey, on Thursday morning thanked Brindle for her stance against hate, while calling for a stronger response to the swastikas in Westfield.
“It’s time for the mayor to say unequivocally, explicitly, unreservedly and unhesitatingly that swastikas, antisemitic graffiti, anti-Jewish bias crimes, are unacceptable in Westfield and everywhere else,” Ben-Shimon said in a statement. “That Westfield deserves better than this.”
Email Matt Kadosh at firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @MattKadosh
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