Over the last several years, there have been numerous antisemitic incidents in Marblehead. While this is deeply troubling, what is equally disturbing is the town’s response.
In 2016, the phrase “JEWS DID 9/11” was raked into the high school’s athletic field; in 2017, antisemitic 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; in September of 2020, antisemitic slogans were painted on rocks at Preston Beach; in May, antisemitic and racist graffiti was found in Crocker Park and at two other locations. While police denounced each of these incidents, they made no arrests in any of these cases.
And last November, the town’s police chief, Robert Picariello, announced that a Marblehead police officer was suspected of scratching a swastika into another officer’s private vehicle in the summer of 2019. That a culture of silence would exist in a law enforcement organization sworn to protect its citizens is upsetting enough, but what has followed suggests an ambivalence about hate speech at best, and at worst a failure of duty – from law enforcement all the way to the town’s elected leaders and top administrator.
While the officer suspected of scratching the swastika has resigned, and the chief denounced the alleged act, and the town hired Winthrop Police Chief Terence Delehanty to create a report about the incident, it has been six months since the town has said anything about the report. Meanwhile, Chief Picariello is retiring as of July 2 and is still mum on the investigation. So is Delehanty, who is being paid $9,000 for the investigation. In today’s page 1 story on the matter, Town Administrator Jason Silva told the Journal he is not involved in the investigation and Jackie Belf-Becker, who chairs the Board of Selectmen, said, “I don’t really know anything.”
While these antisemitic incidents are upsetting, they also reveal a culture of permissiveness and a lack of transparency when it comes to Marblehead’s official response to hate crimes. The message they send to residents and businesses is loud and clear: Don’t bother us. There is still time for the town to grow from these incidents. But to grow, town officials need to restore their credibility and serve all the members of their community.