READING – Rooting out hate crime is no easy task, as the town of Reading has discovered.
Anti-Semitic graffiti started appearing in public schools with troubling regularity early in 2017. Staffers found swastikas on a bathroom stall, a wooden desktop, and a classroom workstation among other locations. In one case in June 2018, someone used permanent marker to write “Gas the Jews” next to a swastika on a brick wall in the lobby of the Walter S. Parker Middle School.
The town has responded to the scourge of more than two dozen incidents with a multi-pronged offensive aimed to educate students on the importance of tolerance and embracing diversity. Meanwhile, town leaders have underscored that what’s been occurring is criminal and must be punished.
“The Select Board condemns the escalating occurrences of anti-Semitic vandalism that have defaced places in Reading, including our schools and public library,” the board said last year in a statement. “We recognize the deep impact these disturbing crimes have on our children, friends and neighbors.”
As per school district protocol, police have been called to investigate each incident. Reading Police have vowed to prosecute offenders to the full extent of the law.
Yet police records reflect the difficulty in solving property-related hate crimes. One report after another ends with the phrase: “no suspects.” Police even reached out to federal law enforcement for support after the “Gas the Jews” incident, but were told federal law would be difficult to apply in what is most likely a juvenile case.
The recent events have left residents frustrated and concerned.
“There is a certain deterrent factor I would hope: if the punishment is going to be severe, then hopefully you won’t do it,” said Rebecca Liberman, a Reading resident who’s had three children attend Reading public schools. “The larger issue is to show that the school takes this seriously. This is a serious crime.”