SWAMPSCOTT – Last Wednesday, a local resident who frequently walks on Preston Beach discovered boulders covered with racist and anti-Semitic hate messages.
Both the Swampscott and Marblehead police departments are investigating the hate incident and seeking information about who might have done it.
A photo posted on Facebook showed the hate graffiti spray painted on the riprap at the base of the stairs that lead from Beach Bluff Park down to the beach.
However, according to police, the graffiti was also scrawled on rocks on the Marblehead side of the beach and on the park’s walkway. In an email, Marblehead Police Chief Robert Picariello said that Swampscott is serving as the lead investigating agency for this incident.
By the afternoon, the spray paint at the base of the stairs had been covered over with black paint.
That morning, the beachgoer posted a photo on a private Swampscott Facebook group. When reached, the person requested anonymity. The man said he contacted Swampscott police via its Facebook account. His post later drew more than 85 comments of disgust.
In the photo shared on Facebook, the messages on the rocks included the n-word, the word “rape,” a swastika, the Star of David and the phrase “Kill Jews.”
“Overnight offensive racist and anti-Semitic hate graffiti was spray painted on the rocks and walkway at Preston Beach Park, both in Swampscott and Marblehead,” read a Facebook post by the Swampscott Police. “The Swampscott Police Department strongly condemns this hateful act which is unacceptable in either of our communities.”
Swampscott Detective Ted Delano, the department’s civil rights officer, believes the racist graffiti does not reflect the community. “We will pursue it and take it from there,” Delano said. “It’s disgusting.”
Delano said police did not receive any reports of suspicious activity or groups of kids at the beach overnight. “We will devote resources to it,” Delano said.
“The messaging goes a step further than just being hate speech because it’s hate combined with violence,” said Robert Trestan, Anti-Defamation League New England’s regional director. “It’s a call to violence. It’s scary for people to be walking by it. I think it’s important for it to be called out.”
Trestan said he was grateful for the person who reported the hate graffiti to police.
“In the same way, if someone saw a crime in front of them happening, this is no different,” said Trestan. He said incidents of hate have been “fairly consistent through the pandemic.”
In addition to Preston Beach being a popular place to stroll, it’s also the location of nearby Temple Emanu-El’s yearly Rosh Hashanah Tashlich ritual, where congregants go to hear the shofar and cast bread crumbs into the ocean.
“Such incidents are indeed distressing to all people of goodwill in our community,” said Temple Emanu-El Rabbi David J. Meyer. “Thankfully, our local law enforcement, town officials, clergy and other leaders are reliable partners in fighting such hatred and bigotry. We must continue to stand together against those who foment racism, anti-Semitism and prejudice in every form.”
Hateful stickers in Salem
Salem police are also investigating hate stickers tied to a white nationalist, Neo-Nazi group. The stickers have been placed on public spaces around Salem in recent weeks, according to a Facebook post by the Salem No Place for Hate Committee’s Facebook group and by the city’s mayor, Kim Driscoll.
The city is asking for residents’ help to find out who has been placing them.
“We are taking it very seriously,” said Driscoll in an interview. “In these troubled times, when you see something, it’s important to stand up.”
Driscoll said it’s important to call out the stickers for what they represent, which are values antithetical to those of a diverse community like Salem.
The stickers started showing up within the last week and a half, she said. It soon became clear the group is working in connection with white supremacist hate groups, she said.
“If you witness NSC131 stickers being put up or you see stickers posted in Salem,” the No Place for Hate post says, “do not confront or engage with the individual(s).”
Placing the stickers on property is not only hateful, Driscoll said, but it’s unlawful because they deface public property.
Police are asking anyone with information about the hate graffiti to call Swampscott police at 781-595-1111 or Marblehead police at 781-631-1212. Anyone with information about the stickers should call Salem police at 978-745-9700.