MARBLEHEAD – The police think a spate of hateful, vulgar and antisemitic graffiti found in three separate locations around town over the weekend of May 1-2 are “similar,” according to a press release from police Chief Robert Picariello.
Police are also investigating whether the hate messages found on the boardwalk of Ware Pond off Briar Lane on Sept. 2, 2020 – at the same time the same type of hate speech was found scrawled on rocks on Preston Beach in Swampscott – and at the same conservation area on May 1 are the work of the same person or persons.
“Today’s graffiti mirrors the hate messages that were written on 9/2/20,” wrote officer Tim Morley in his May 1 report. White spray paint was used in both incidents at the pond. “This information will be forwarded to the MPD’s criminal investigation division, as the two appear to have been committed by the same individual or individuals.”
The three areas hit by the hate graffiti were a concrete pathway at Crocker Park, the boardwalk of the Ware Pond conservation area nearest the Warren Road entrance, and a butterfly mural on a wall under the bridge on Village Street. Two of the three locations are along the Marblehead Rail Trail.
“This type of behavior is disgusting and has no place in our community,” Chief Picariello said in a statement. “I want to thank the residents that brought these incidents to our attention. We take all reports of hateful actions, racism and antisemitism extremely seriously and we will continue our investigation into these matters.”
“I am grateful to our community leadership, especially to the Marblehead Police Department, for keeping us apprised of the situation,” said Rabbi David Meyer of Temple Emanu-El. “The increasing incidents of hateful, racist, and antisemitic graffiti reminds us that the good people of our town always must stand together against prejudice and bigotry in all of their forms.”
Temple Sinai President Ira Dinnes said in an email: “We need more video surveillance in this town, it seems that the same sorts of places get hit over and over again. Cannot be that expensive. I am wondering if they did catch anyone what the typical punishments are for those involved. Fines? Jail? Education? Education is not much of a deterrent. We don’t even know if these are Marblehead residents.”
On May 6, the department issued a press release saying the department was “investigating multiple incidents of hateful and vulgar graffiti in town that were located last week and are seeking the public’s help.”
Police say the incidents appear to be related, and they are asking anyone with information or who has noticed suspicious activities in these parts of town to call police at 781-631-1212.
Picariello said in an interview as soon as he heard about them, he forwarded the reports to the Anti-Defamation League’s New England office, the Marblehead Racial Justice Team and the Task Force Against Discrimination. Officials from Conservation, Public Works and Recreation and Parks Department responded to cover over or remove the images.
The first incident described by police in its press release was reported around 6:50 a.m. on May 2, drawing officers to Crocker Park, which is located on Front Street. A woman walking her dog discovered the graffiti, according to the police report. There, they found what is described as “vulgar graffiti scrawled in large block letters with black spray paint on a pathway.”
“Officer [Christopher] Gallo remarked that the lettering appeared to match the lettering of antisemitic graffiti discovered on May 1, 2021, underneath the Village Street Bridge,” the police report of Sgt. Eric Osattin states. In viewing images of both, Osattin agreed with Gallo the paint and lettering appeared similar “likely accomplished by the same suspect.” Picariello also responded to Crocker Park and canvassed the area with the sergeant, checking trash barrels that had already been emptied by Recreation and Parks. Police went to the town’s trash transfer station to check the trash bags looking for evidence, such as spray cans, the police report states.
The first incident of the three to be reported to police was at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 1, when police responded to the report of the graffiti on the boardwalk at Ware Pond.
Later that day, at 10:50 a.m., an officer responded to a report and located graffiti under the Village Street bridge, where he located antisemitic language had been spray-painted.
Officer Gallo wrote: “Under the bridge I observed the blue and gold butterfly mural had been painted with over with 18” block lettering very uniform in size and print.”
Marblehead has been the site of numerous antisemitic incidents in recent years.
Marblehead Police are still investigating an event that took place nearly two years ago when a police officer allegedly scratched a swastika into the paint of a fellow patrolman’s personal car. Last September, antisemitic slogans were painted on rocks at Preston Beach on the border with Marblehead. The boardwalk at Ware Pond conservation area was also hit that day.
In 2019, Temple Emanu-El’s video surveillance system recorded a man posting Holocaust denial flyers on the temple’s grounds. In 2017, antisemitic and hate slogans were painted on the town’s causeway. In 2016, the phrase “JEWS DID 9/11” was raked into the high school’s athletic field. To date, there have been no arrests for these incidents.
The three incidents at the start of the moth were reported within a week of the Anti-Defamation League’s annual audit that tracks antisemitic incidents in the region.
The report found that “antisemitic incidents remained at historically high levels in the New England Region in 2020,” though incidents were down from 2019 levels. The ADL tracked 35 incidents of antisemitic vandalism in Massachusetts in 2020, which was second only to incidents of harassment (38) in the Bay State.
The graffiti found in Marblehead came less than a week after racist and antisemitic graffiti was found on a path on a remote part of the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station in Abington.
Steven A. Rosenberg contributed to this report.