Hatred prompts call for dialogue in Swampscott

April 19, 2016

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
David Ratner looks at the spot on Pleasant Street in Swampscott where he and his wife found a swastika painted on the sidewalk.

BY THOR JOURGENSEN

SWAMPSCOTT — An enjoyable neighborhood stroll turned gloomy when a couple discovered a swastika chalked on a Pleasant Street sidewalk.

David and Diane Ratner spotted the emblem of the Nazi party Sunday night as they walked near their home. They called police, who checked the middle school where the Ratners saw another swastika scrawled in the parking lot.

The couple called police and the Anti-Defamation League, who told them Swampscott has a strong foundation for turning the symbol of hate into a teachable moment about rejecting discrimination and ending intolerance.

Police officials could not be reached for comment. But the police log for April 17 said officers were called to Lewis Road and Pleasant Street at 10:32 p.m.

David Ratner, the father of two middle school students and a high school student, said the graffiti was “sick and pretty disturbing.”

“I think it’s a couple of bad elements,” he said. “Kids who don’t get it.”  

Maureen Caron, assistant to School Superintendent Pamela Angelakis, said school officials have no comment.

Amy O’Connor, a parent and school committee member, said the vandalism was “scary and very disturbing” and added, “I don’t think it is indicative of our town.”

The Ratners reported the swastika to the Anti-Defamation League. Melissa Garlick, the group’s attorney, said league representatives spoke with police and school officials.

“They are investigating and taking the incident very seriously,” she said.

The graffiti and conversations about them among town residents offer educational opportunities on ending bias and discrimination, she added.  

The league has worked with Swampscott school officials to provide anti-bias peer training in the high school for four years. The league honored Lytania Mackey, assistant high school principal, for her anti-discrimination work. Garlick said 30 Swampscott students attended a youth congress this month where anti-bias peer training was offered.

Penny Hurwitz, league associate director in education, said anti-bias training helps students working with professional facilitators learn how to discuss social justice, racism and sexism with their peers.

She said high school students trained in peer-led conversations could meet and talk, with school officials’ permission, with middle school students.

“The power of students talking to one another is absolutely unmatched,” Hurwitz said.

David Ratner said a conversation between high school students and middle school students on bias and hate is a good idea, especially if the investigation into the graffiti leads to a town student.

“If they don’t learn the lesson now, when will they?” he said. “A lot of times kids do this and don’t know what it means.”  


Thor Jourgensen can be reached at tjourgensen@itemlive.com.