Billerica officials rushed over the weekend to paint over a swastika discovered on the side of a shuttered school building, declaring that symbols of hate have no place in the town.
“It is my responsibility to remind people that these kind of things, while awful, and that seem to be happening everywhere, do not represent who we are, or who we will be,” said Andrew Deslaurier, chairman of Billerica’s board of selectmen.
The graffiti, painted in black, was discovered Friday on the side of the old Ditson Elementary School on Boston Road and Sheridan Street.
A Jewish resident said she saw it, snapped a photo, and then sent the picture to her friends. One of them shared it on Twitter Saturday, bringing the vandalism to the attention of town officials.
“When you’re walking around in your neighborhood with small kids it’s the last thing you want to see,” said the woman who saud she found the symbol. The woman asked not to be identified, because she said she has been targeted by anti-Semitism before.
Public works superintendent Edward Tierney sent an employee to purchase some white paint and meet him at the abandoned school building. It took a couple of coats to cover the symbol, but Tierney said that it was gone within a half-hour.
A surge in hate crimes and violent actions targeting marginalized groups have been reported since Donald Trump became president-elect.
Monday, Nov. 14, State Attorney General Maura Healey launched a new hot line for residents to report harassment and intimidation towards, among other groups, racial, ethnic, and religious minorities
By Friday, just four days after the hot line launched, more than 300 callers reported bullying, threats, vandalism, and harassment, Healey’s office said.
The Billerica swastika appeared on the publicly-owned, abandoned school building in a residential area frequented by young people, Billerica Police Deputy Chief Roy Frost said.
Until recently, the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office used the building as a training facility, Frost said. It sits nearby a wiffle-ball diamond, basketball court, and playground. “It’s kind of a focal point of our neighborhood,” Deslaurier said.
Anti-semitic incidents are uncommon in Billerica, according to Frost. He recalls one other instance from two years ago in which a swastika was painted on a street near the old Ditson school building.
Frost said police are doing everything they can to find those responsible for the graffiti.
Tierney said he suspects some kids got their hand on a can of spray paint and “unfortunately decided to do this.”
“We are investigating the source of how it came to be,” said Frost, the deputy police chief. “I’ve been around the police department for 20 years and I do not see this type of hate being espoused in this town, so we’re taking it very seriously.”