MARBLEHEAD – Even as the Marblehead Coalition and the head of the Anti-Defamation League in Boston gathered Sept. 23 on Zoom to talk about how to deal with racist and antisemitic graffiti and other incidents in town, additional incidents continued to make waves in the seaside community.
A police officer discovered a group of teens on the roof of Temple Emanu-El on Atlantic Avenue around 8:20 p.m. on Sept. 18, a few days after Yom Kippur. No damage was done to the temple and police are investigating the incident as a trespass rather than a hate crime.
Meanwhile, a mother raising young Jewish children in town wrote a letter to town officials to say she has “seen an explosion of antisemitism this past year and I’m deeply disturbed about it.”
Jackie Belf-Becker, chairwoman of the Marblehead Board of Selectmen, read from the letter: “My family and I were on the JCC playground in April and two teenagers rode their bikes past us and uttered an antisemitic slur in our direction.”
The virtual panel discussion called Marblehead Speaks Out Against Hate included selectmen, faith leaders, school officials, and representatives of the Task Force Against Discrimination and the Marblehead Racial Justice Team. The event attracted more than 100 online participants.
“I know that we all agree that it’s not enough to hold marches or vigils, it’s time for doing other things,” Helaine Hazlett, cochair of the Task Force Against Discrimination, said. “I’ve often been saying it’s all about education, education, education.”
Other panelists included Henry Turner, Newton North High School’s principal; the Rev. James Bixby, pastor of Clifton Lutheran Church and cochair of the Marblehead Racial Justice Team; Temple Emanu-El’s Senior Rabbi David Meyer, as the Convener of the Marblehead Ministerial Association; and Marblehead Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Nan Murphy.
The town’s new police chief, Dennis King, said in the last year there have been 21 graffiti incidents, five of which were a hate crime or a hateful incident, a number the former graffiti investigator for the Salem Police Department said was “significant.”
The panel spoke against the backdrop of an incident that came to light in December 2020 involving a former police officer, Timothy Tufts, who allegedly scratched a swastika into the paint of a fellow officer’s car during a shift change on July 1, 2019. Tufts resigned in December 2020. The other officer is not Jewish.
Residents were concerned that it took nearly a year and a half for the incident to come to light under the town’s retired police chief, Robert Picariello, who commissioned an independent investigation, the results of which took another six months to be revealed.
“Findings by the investigator showed a crime of vandalism may have occurred, but not a hate crime, there was no overt bias and the victim was not of a protected class,” King said.
The chief said department policies on reporting, training, cultural competency, workplace discrimination investigations, and harassment are among areas that need improvement, in addition to engagement with the Jewish community.
“And, tonight is really a perfect example of what we need to do as a town to ensure the number of incidents like this is minimized, and we have a foundation to address them when they occur,” King said.
Assistant Superintendent Murphy noted that it’s been five years since there has been an antisemitic issue at Marblehead High “and that is admirable in that we are getting to a point at the high school where students are no longer being disciplined for things that were more commonplace.”
Meyer chimed in: “to maybe throw a little oil onto the fire.” While lauding the efforts of the community to fight all forms of hate, “we also to have to listen to each other, and it’s not always easy.”
The rabbi pointed out that civil rights was at the core of his Reform Jewish practice growing up and part of his spirituality, and Black Lives Matter serves as the preeminent civil rights movement in America, “but for many members of the Jewish community, seeing a Black Lives Matter banner or poster evokes the thought of those coming from some of the national leadership of Black Lives Matter that have brought brutal antisemitic statements into the movement that I think poisons it in certain ways.”
“So, we have to listen to one another,” Meyer said, “like how could Black Lives Matter be a painful thing for Jews? Well, ‘Death to Israel’ was shouted outside of the Chabad house in a Black Lives Matter gathering not long ago. It’s not always easy. So, we have to listen to each other.”
King said in an email to the Journal he has been in touch with Meyer and police are investigating the teens that got on the temple’s roof.
According to Sgt. Eric Osattin’s report, when he drove into the temple’s driveway on the evening of Sept. 18, a woman walking a dog told him a group of kids was hanging out on the picnic benches at the back of the temple. As he rounded the corner, he noticed three to four teens with bikes by the benches.
“At first, nothing appeared nefarious,” Osattin wrote, “However, as I stopped to look closer, a teenage girl walked toward me to apologize for the behavior of her friends. As she did, the other kids took off on their bikes, but there were several more bikes left behind. It was then I noticed one teenager climb down the HVAC unit and run away. I then noticed several more teenagers on the roof. They attempted to hide as I approached.”
Osattin called for backup, but the teens fled. Police confiscated three bicycles and two backpacks and took them back to the station. One backpack had items that identified its owner.
The next day, Osattin met with two teenage girls and their parents when they came to station to retrieve their belongings.
Osattin told them he was waiting for follow-up and video evidence from the temple to identify others “and the extent of malicious activity.” He informed them police would make decisions about charges at that time.
“MPD will work with Rabbi Meyer to come up with a restorative approach for the youth involved,” King said.