Haddonfield Police Chief Jason Cutler says the graffiti was reported Thursday, and officials moved to cover it up Friday morning. New Jersey has seen record rates of bias crimes in the past three years.
By Matt Skoufalos | April 1, 2022
Trees outside the Haddonfield Friends Meeting, Cemetery, and School were graffitied with hate symbols this week, as authorities investigate, and members of the Friends Society reckon with being targeted for bias crime.
The symbols were first noticed Friday morning, said David Austin, Clerk of the Haddonfield Friends Meeting, when Haddonfield Friends Head of School Matthew Sharp reported them to him.
Photos of the incident provided to NJ Pen show multiple trees that appeared to have been spray-painted with pink swastikas and other indiscernible language.
Austin, a retired history teacher who last year published Small Miracle: A Holocaust Story from France, the story of Holocaust survivors who later emigrated to Cherry Hill, has been with the meeting for 19 years.
He said the presence of the graffiti on the meeting grounds was deeply upsetting to him.
“I taught an extensive Holocaust history unit for 10 years,” Austin said. “I’ve met dozens of Holocaust survivors and liberators of the concentration camps.
“This is personal for me,” he said. “This is like somebody did this to my home.”
Austin said his biggest concern about the graffiti was that it would be especially visible to students and teachers at the Haddonfield Friends School, as the trees affected are within sight of entrances to the school’s campus.
“We made a decision to cover over the spray paint so that the kids wouldn’t have to encounter that,” Austin said.
Haddonfield Friends is commemorating its 300th anniversary this year, and Austin said the group “will have to reflect on this as a community.”
“We’ve done work on anti-racism; we’ll take care of each other,” he said. “I want the local community, the wider community, to be aware that this has happened, and to give folks something to think about.
“This isn’t right,” Austin said. “It seems like we’re in this place right now as a country where this stuff is everywhere. There are a lot of people pushing agendas that are just plain wrong. They’re anti-American, anti-human, as much as they’re anti-Semitic.”
Haddonfield Police Chief Jason Cutler said the graffiti was reported to his department yesterday, and that detectives are investigating the incident. Cutler said the borough has dealt with an uptick in graffiti this year in general, typically confined to abandoned buildings on the Bancroft property. The chief also said that the Haddonfield Public Works department is working to clean up the site.
Haddonfield Mayor Colleen Bianco Bezich said she was “disgusted” by the presence of swastikas in the borough, and grateful to the police and public works crews for “responding, reporting, and working to clean up these signs.
“Hate and bigotry have no home in Haddonfield, whether anti-Semitism or any other type,” Bianco Bezich said.
“As Passover is only two weeks away, it’s important to stand in solidarity with our Jewish community members and denounce these symbols.”
The graffiti at Haddonfield Friends comes on the heels of what the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General (OAG) said has been a record-high year for reported bias incidents in the state.
In 2021, New Jersey law enforcement agencies logged 1,871 such incidents, up 29 percent from the 1,447 bias incidents reported in 2020. The OAG notes that uptick is likely a combination of more thorough reporting metrics as well as an increase in bias crimes nationwide.
It’s the third consecutive year in which the state has established a record total for hate crimes reported, and anti-Black (877 incidents in 2021, 39 percent of the total) and anti-Jewish (347 incidents in 2021, 19 percent of the total) bias incidents are the most commonly reported racial and religious-based incidents.
Locally, bias threats against the Katz Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill closed the facility on consecutive days last month.
Bias intimidation is defined as “an offense committed to intimidate—or with knowledge that such an action would intimidate—an individual or group of individuals” on the basis of their “perceived or actual race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender, gender identity, or gender expression.
“Bias offenses can include harassment, vandalism, assault, terroristic threats, arson, criminal mischief, and homicide, among other offenses,” the OAG report noted.
Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact the Haddonfield Police Department at (856)-429-3000.
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