Reports of hate crimes and bias-related incidents in Newton in the past month have been higher than normal, according to Eric Rosenbaum, a Newton Police Department (NPD) officer.
At a Newton Human Rights Commission meeting on Thursday to review the past month’s reports, Brooke Foucault Wells, chair of the commission, said it is important to share the reports with the community.
“The impact is that it creates more awareness and also more willingness to report these things,” Foucault Wells said.
Bruce Apotheker, NPD civil rights officer, and Rosenbaum both presented their reports at the meeting.
Last Thursday, an employee at the restaurant District 118, located on Needham St., was fired for expressing “anti-Spanish” speech to another employee, Rosenbaum said. After being terminated, the former employee broke the windshield of a Hispanic employee’s car and left a targeted note on it. The perpetrator has been charged and the police department plans to follow up with the victim and restaurant to see if there have been any other incidents of harassment prior to the one currently being investigated.
Another bias-related incident occurred on Jan. 29 when a teacher at Charles E. Brown Middle High received a note that said “ALM,” an abbreviation for “All Lives Matter.” As the individual was one of the few teachers of color at the school, this was an “obviously a targeted attack,” according to Apotheker.
Apotheker said that the teacher was active in educating on Black Lives Matter and promoting Black History Month. The school has not been able to identify the offender.
Apotheker said that after consulting with the District Attorney’s office, it was determined this act is not technically a crime and the department would not be able to charge the person responsible. NPD is still working with the school, though, by taking fingerprints from the letter and recommending handwriting experts to analyze who could have written the note.
“This [teacher] is a person who is going to school every day and doing his job,” said Apotheker. “He’s helping all the kids there and we’re going to do everything we can even though it’s not a crime. We’ll pull on our resources to do whatever we can to find out who did this and help the school department.”
On Jan. 10, a banner that read “Boer Lives Matter,” a reference to a riot that occurred in South Africa last fall, was hung on Echo Bridge which connects Newton and Needham across the Charles River. After that banner was taken down, another banner hung from the bridge on Jan. 16 which read, “Her name was Ashli Babbitt, RTT, USA,” in reference to one of the people killed during the Capitol riot, Newton Patch reported.
Mayor Ruthanne Fuller addressed these banners in her State of the City Address on Wednesday and said that the banners displayed hateful language such as white supremacy and anti-Semitism.
“These banners appeared at such a difficult time, soon after the Capitol was overrun, and in the wake of a year in which severe racial disparities whether economic, education, or health, have laid bare,” Fuller said. “I am actively committed to combating racism and hate. I ask for your help as we strive for deeper, more systemic racial justice and equity.”
The NPD identified a group called “Revolt Through Tradition,” a far-right political organization known to be active in New England states, as being responsible for the banners. This is their only known action within Massachusetts
“[None of this] was in regards to Newton or targeting anyone in Newton but it was just alarming in regards to the group that put it up,” said Rosenbaum.
There was also an incident of transgender hate speech on the messaging platform Discord by Newton South High School students, according to Rosenbaum. The school was quickly able to identify those responsible for the posts.
Apotheker said that NPD continues to investigate events as they are reported, and cited the importance of transparency from the NPD about reports involving hate and bias.
“Everything that is a bias-related incident, it’s hateful, no matter what it is, and that is why we are here for the community,” Apotheker said. “Whether it’s a crime or just an incident, it’s cancer to the community. And we’re here to eradicate it as best we can and that’s how we do it, by coming to these meetings and working together with everybody.”
Featured Image by Keara Hanlon / For The Heights