Anna Dugan was shocked to find her mother's portrait on her downtown Lynn mural defaced with anti-Semitic vandalism (Courtesy Photo)
Local Crime, News, Police/Fire

Lynn community responds to racist graffiti and vandalism

LYNN — Nearly 10 incidents of racist graffiti and vandalism have been reported in the city over the past year, prompting a community meeting and discussion on Monday night about how to appropriately respond.  

Residents, community leaders and elected officials crowded into a room at the Lynn Community Television headquarters to brainstorm about how to respond to a year's worth of mainly anti-Semitic vandalism in Lynn, and to share their own personal experiences with racism and hatred. 

The consensus was that there should be more education, teaching people an appropriate response to hatred and it should start early, teaching children how to respect people who may be different from them. 

Dalene Basden, a homeowner in Lynn for 30 years, said she was never so shocked as when she saw a white man and his 6-year-old daughter running away from her property one day. Basden, who is black, saw that the man had written a racial expletive across her door reading, "n----rs suck." 

She said the man's action didn't bother her so much as the fact that he was teaching his young daughter that hurtful behavior. 

"It was an experience that has stayed with me so long," Basden said. "What we need to do is start with young ones and make sure children respect each other's culture." 

The discussion came in the wake of two instances of vandalism in the city over the past two months that have been thrust into the spotlight. 

In July, the site of a controversial proposed marijuana store on the Lynn/Saugus line, which is the subject of a lawsuit between the municipalities, was trashed with anti-Semitic and racist symbolism. The future store owner is African American and converting to Judaism, and the building owner is Jewish.

Earlier this month, Salem artist Anna Dugan, who is Filipino, saw her mother's portrait on a downtown mural of her family defaced with a Hitler mustache and what appeared to be the insignia of the Schutz-staffel (SS), the Nazis who killed six million Jews during the Holocaust. 

Choking back tears, Dugan said she knew the vandalism wasn't a personal attack on her, but described how heartbreaking it was to find it. 

"My mother told me to let it go because she was terrified that I would suffer repercussions," Dugan said. "I couldn't let it go knowing that my mother's face had hate on it. I had to go and fix it right away." 

Her mother's reaction was devastating to her, Dugan said, explaining that hate often comes from ignorance. The best way to combat ignorance, she said, is with education, awareness and discussion. 

"I don't care about that man," Dugan said referring to Basden's story. "I care about that 6-year-old girl. The only thing that I would want to come from this is for people to speak up and speak loudly to prevent ignorance from spreading." 

Seth Albaum, Lynn Happens editor and director of Lynn Community Television, who hosted the discussion, said the first incident of anti-Semitic graffiti that he became aware of was in September of last year when he came across the lightning bolts insignia of the Schutz-staffel. 

Albaum, who is Jewish, said he reacted strongly to the symbol because it represented a group who took members of his family away. 

Since then, he's come across multiple instances of anti-Semitic graffiti, and has taken it upon himself to report each incident to Lynn Police and the Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights and human relations agency, which was founded to stop the defamation of Jewish people. 

"People are really concerned about this," said Albaum. "I think we've been feeling it a long time. I've never felt afraid to live around here before, but it's coming to the surface and we're going to address it." 

Police Chief Michael Mageary said the department has several active investigations going regarding the past year's racist vandalism and graffiti. He said police have identified a person of interest, related to two of the reported incidents. 

"I really can't go into details, obviously, but we take this very seriously," Mageary said. "There's no room for hate and bias in this community. I don't think it reflects the values that we have in the city of Lynn and we're aggressively doing an investigation."

Mageary said it was essential for the incidents to be reported immediately because a delay hinders the investigation. The night's presentation included advising people to take a picture of any potential vandalism and send it into police. 

"We're not going to hold back," Mageary said. "We're going to go right after these people and when we find them, we're going to prosecute them. It's incumbent upon the community to help us as well." 

Some suggestions from the evening included holding a community vigil late this year or early next year, forming a community task force, and coming up with an icon or symbol to display publicly, such as on yard signs, that show the community doesn't tolerate the displays of hatred. 

Jason Cruz, of Raw Art Works, said there's a lot of beauty in the city, but community art is only being focused on the downtown. If the city wants to get the message out about what Lynn is really about, it needs to be spread to other areas as well. 

"Art has been used across history to make people hate," Cruz said. "It can also make people believe and motivate."

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