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LYNN — Jordan Avery was shocked when he saw his proposed recreational marijuana store covered in anti-Semitic and racist graffiti and symbolism on Monday afternoon.
Avery, an African American who is converting to Judaism, was notified of the break-in and vandalism by the building’s owner, Julius Sokol, who is Jewish.
“I’m speechless and upset that this type of hatred and anti-Semitism is happening, that it was received by the building owners, myself and my team of the entire company,” said Avery, owner of Massachusetts Green Retail. He plans to open a cannabis business at 829 Boston St.
The walls and a projector screen inside the building were defaced with messages denoting expletives toward Jews and another one that read “Jesus failed” next to an upside down cross and pentagram, and cartoon figures with horns and drawings of other symbols were spray painted.
The floors were littered with empty alcohol bottles and covered with white powder that was likely from scattered fire extinguishers that were sprayed during the vandalism. But the most graphic was a knife hanging from a noose at the end of a rope tied to the ceiling.
Avery’s proposed pot shop on the Lynn/Saugus line has been mired in controversy. He received approval from the Lynn City Council in March to open, but the town of Saugus subsequently filed a lawsuit appealing the decision, arguing that the town doesn’t allow recreational cannabis establishments, saying that part of the building and parking lot is in Saugus.
He believes the vandalism is an acceleration of the pushback he’s received since he was given the green light to open his store, which he said has included threatening phone calls and voicemails.
“I strongly believe this is another tactic that is being done toward (me) to not want this dispensary to open,” Avery said. “I will not allow these haters, racist individuals, or anyone, including the town of Saugus, stop me from being a cannabis entrepreneur.”
The case is in Massachusetts Land Court and Massachusetts Green Retail has filed a motion to dismiss, backed by a response to the lawsuit from the Lynn City Council. A hearing is scheduled for next month.
“That’s a horrible thing for anyone to experience,” said Debra Panetta, chairwoman of the Saugus Board of Selectmen. “I certainly hope they find a perpetrator.”
But Panetta said she didn’t think the incident had anything to do with Avery wanting to put a marijuana facility in the building, or how it could be linked to the pending lawsuit.
Sokol was walking into the store around noon to take measurements for construction of the building when he heard the back door open and then saw a person running away from the property.
“It’s a very disturbing, unfortunate situation, and in 2019, this kind of hate doesn’t belong anywhere,” Sokol said. “I don’t really have an opinion on the motive. I know what I saw. I don’t know if it was personally targeted against us or the business owner who is African American and is converting to Judaism.”
Lynn Police Lt. Michael Kmiec said there are no suspects in the incident and there isn’t any surveillance footage.
“It’s certainly something that we don’t stand for and we’ll certainly investigate further and that’s what we’re in the process of doing right now,” Kmiec said.
The vandalism has also been reported to the Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights and human relations agency which was founded to stop the defamation of Jewish people.
“They’re using racism and anti-Semitism to try and intimidate a Jewish and African American entrepreneur,” said Robert Trestan, ADL New England’s executive director. “It’s pretty blatant and it’s pretty disgusting. One way to counter both racism and anti-Semitism is for the community to show united support and send a message that this is not how we communicate or settle differences in our community.”
Some of that community outreach is under way. According to a Facebook message shared with The Item, Gov. Charlie Baker told Avery he was sorry to hear the news about his storefront. “You are a good man. Do not let it get in your way, Jordan!” wrote Baker, a Swampscott resident.
Although Trestan said there haven’t been recent reports of anti-Semitic incidents in Lynn, there has been a dramatic rise in anti-Semitism in the past few years statewide.
The incident in Lynn comes a week after anti-Semitic flyers denying the Holocaust were found outside a synagogue in Marblehead. In the past several months, there have been attempted arsons at two synagogues, Arlington and Needham, and 59 headstones were desecrated with anti-Semitic language in a Jewish cemetery in Fall River, according to Trestan.
In 2018, ADL recorded 144 anti-Semitic incidents in Massachusetts. The majority were acts of vandalism containing messages of hate against Jews. Despite the increase in recent years, there was a 19 percent decrease in incidents compared to 2017.
Trestan attributed the uptick in recent years to people feeling emboldened to publicly share and display their hatred because of the current political and social climate.