In recent years, acts of anti-Semitism have been constant in some North Shore towns, and last week the community learned that a Marblehead police officer resigned after allegedly scratching a swastika into the paint of another officer’s personal car.
Many questions linger from this incident, beginning with the timeline. According to Marblehead Police Chief Robert Picariello, the swastika drawing allegedly occurred in the summer of 2019. It is fair to ask why it took nearly 18 months for the chief to learn of this incident and begin his investigation. It is also fair to question the culture of a police department where an event like this could occur without top supervisors being aware of it for over a year.
We are encouraged by the chief’s swift actions once he began his investigation. He also will commission an independent administrative review and retain an outside investigator to “conduct a holistic finding of fact so that we can learn all of the facts of this incident and include it in our training programs.”
Picariello, who plans to retire in July, has been praised by elected officials and some members of the community for his handling of the latest anti-Semitic incident. But the problem is multi-layered and cannot be fixed with one independent investigative review. Unfortunately, like many other communities, anti-Semitism is still woven into the culture of some of the town’s residents and visitors. While Jews began moving into Marblehead in the 1940s, it took decades before they were allowed to purchase a home in all parts of the town, including Marblehead Neck. During that time, Jews were also largely excluded from most yacht clubs, and a private golf course.
In 1989, thousands turned out to protest anti-Semitism after vandals desecrated the Jewish Community Center and Temple Emanu-El. Those incidents led to the creation of the town’s Task Force Against Discrimination. Despite the task force’s efforts, anti-Semitism has continued. In 2016, the phrase “JEWS DID 9/11” was raked into the high school’s athletic field; in 2017, anti-Semitic and hate slogans were painted on the town’s causeway; in 2019, Temple Emanu-El’s video surveillance system recorded a man posting Holocaust denial flyers on the temple’s grounds; and in September, anti-Semitic slogans were painted on rocks at Preston Beach. To date, there have been no arrests for these incidents.
As the police and town move forward with its investigation, we encourage full transparency by the department and also further outreach to the community about anti-Semitism and why it has frequently occurred in the town. As the town moves to hire a new police chief, it is a good time to reexamine the department’s protocol in preventing, responding and investigating anti-Semitic incidents.