WESTFIELD, NJ — Residents should immediately report antisemitic and other hateful vandalism when they see it, police said following a recent bias incident in Tamaques Park where a swastika was drawn onto a sign.
Police Chief Christopher Battiloro said the town will eliminate the hateful graffiti and officers will investigate it once brought to their attention. The vandalism in Tamaques park was found alongside other graffiti, and while Battiloro was doubtful that it reflected broad hate in the community, he also said Westfield has work to do in the area of accepting others.
“I don’t necessarily think this is indicative of widespread hatred in our community,” Battiloro said. “Clearly our community has some work to do with acceptance of others, but I don’t see this as a widespread problem.”
If someone is caught committing vandalism with antisemitic messaging or other hateful speech, it could carry extra penalties on top of criminal mischief, Battiloro said. Extra penalties for a bias incident could include sensitivity training to diverse communities, community counseling programs or payments to community-based organizations that provide service to victims of bias incident crimes, he said.
In 2019, Westfield reported nine bias crimes, according to a recent report from the New Jersey State Police, which did not show any such incidents recorded to have occurred in the town in 2018. New Jersey saw a 75% rise in bias incidents in 2019 over 2018, according to the report, which documents 994 such incidents statewide.
The Anti-Defamation League, an international Jewish non-governmental organization, recorded seven antisemitic incidents in Westfield in 2019, and across New Jersey the ADL reported an increase in such incidents of 73% over 2018.
ADL New Jersey/New York Director Scott Richman said vandalism including swastikas are common forms of “shock” graffiti in the United States, which are often spray-painted by juveniles.
“[These people] are not actually white supremacists but simply want to use the image to shock and alarm people,” Richman said.
He said the swastika is a common symbol in Asia used by religious groups, but its use by the Nazi Party in the early 20th century permanently altered the symbol’s meaning.
“Since 1945, the swastika has served as the most significant and notorious of hate symbols, antisemitism and white supremacy for most of the world outside of Asia,” he said. Richman added, “In the United States, the swastika is overwhelmingly viewed as a hate symbol.”
A local religious leader denounced the vandalism, saying it is best to address it rather than ignore it.
“Making sure people know about it and it’s happening in our town is important,” said Ethan Prosnit, senior rabbi at Temple Emanu-El. “Recognizing that there is hate graffiti, antisemitism and other incidents like this have happened and not just sweeping it under the rug is important. Many people think it is just ignorance and just a sign, but I think people need to know the meaning behind the swastika.”
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