WESTFIELD, NJ — A Boy Scout Troop is setting things right in a local park after a vandal or vandals defaced an Eagle Scout project with graffiti, including a swastika.

Dhillon Patel, 16, who is working with Boy Scout Troop 72, learned last week that trail markers he had put up in Tamaques Park were defaced. A photo provided to TAPinto Westfield shows a black swastika drawn on one of the red trail markers affixed to a tree. The swastika has since been covered up. However, other trail markers were also defaced, Patel said.

The intent of the markers, which the scouts installed last month, he said, is to facilitate access to the trails and to educate users.

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“Sadly, a few weeks later we’re going back to clean up the graffiti and the symbol is a universal symbol of hatred and intolerance,” said Patel, a junior at Westfield High School.

Although Patel said he could clean up the graffiti himself, and do it quietly, he will be going out with his fellow scouts to both clean it up and make a statement against hate. He is also working to get a speaker from a local synagogue to come and discuss with the scouts the background of the hateful symbol.

“I’m arranging for a religious speaker from temple Emanu-El to come to the next scout meeting, which is in two weeks, and discuss the symbol of intolerance and little bit about its history,” Patel said.

Patel said he first learned about the graffiti after authorities included the incident in a police blotter last week. The bias incident had initially been reported on Nov. 11, according to Westfield police.

“The incident involved criminal mischief to property in Tamaques Park,” police stated. “The bias nature referred to swastika drawn on a sign in the park on a trail. There were other drawings on other signs causing damage.”

It is not the first bias incident in Westfield.

In 2019, Westfield reported nine bias crimes, according to a recent report from the New Jersey State Police. New Jersey saw a 75% rise in incidents over 2018, according to the report, which documents 994 such incidents statewide. Click here to read more on that topic.

While state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal wrote in the report that an increased focus on reporting may account for some of the increase, the incidents are too common.

“Simply put, acts of bias have unfortunately become all too commonplace in our society,” he states. “And every one of the 994 reported bias incidents documented herein represents an affront to what we stand for as New Jerseyans and Americans: the freedom and opportunity to thrive in our society regardless of who you are.”

Email Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net | Twitter: @MattKadosh