Two swastikas and a set of “threatening remarks impacting ‘white people’ ” were discovered in two bathrooms at Reading Memorial High School Wednesday, marking the seventh and eighth incidents of hateful graffiti found at the school in the last three weeks, officials said.
“The incidents continue to occur and with increased frequency. After each incident our frustration, and the frustration of this community, grows,” Robert LeLacheur, Reading town manager; John Doherty, superintendent of Reading Public Schools; and David Clark, deputy chief of Reading police, said in a joint statement Thursday.
There were no suspects as of Friday. Police and school officials are investigating the recent incidents, interviewing potential witnesses, and “aggressively reviewing” camera footage, officials said.
All the graffiti has been removed, Doherty said.
“I think it makes us more committed than ever to do everything we can to figure out who’s doing these things, but also to educate our students and our community as to why these are hateful symbols, hateful words,” Doherty said in a telephone interview Friday. “We need to be better than this.”
Reading officials have been grappling with how to manage the ongoing rash of hateful vandalism since a student reported finding a pair of swastikas drawn on a science lab bench on Oct. 12. The school district has seen about 30 cases of hateful graffiti targeting people of color, Jews, and the LGBTQ community since May 2017, Doherty said.
In the wake of the most recent incidents, school administrators have issued joint press releases with town law enforcement, hosted a candlelight vigil that more than 300 community members attended, held “courageous conversations” with students and staff, and increased staff visibility in public areas around the schools, officials said.
“Students are definitely aware of this. . . . They want it to stop so they can focus on being students and learning and participating in activities and being part of the school culture,” Doherty said. “We’re going to continue to do what we’re doing. We’re not going to let this define us; we’re not going to let this defeat us.”
The abundance of hateful graffiti found in the school district over the course of the last few weeks has prompted officials to change the way they communicate their findings to the public. Rather than sending out joint press releases immediately after new incidents, as they have for such incidents through this week, officials moving forward will share summarized findings in district newsletters and on social media.
“Our intent is to continue to internally address the issues and also to keep the community informed,” officials said. “It is our hope that this shift will reduce and eliminate these acts of hate.”
Reading police are asking that anyone with information on the hateful graffiti report it to police at 781-944-1212 or anonymously by texting “READINGPD” and a message to 847411.