Port Washington Superintendent Dr. Michael Hynes informed the Port Washington community last Sunday evening, April 25, that two swastikas were spray-painted onto the exterior walls at John Philip Sousa Elementary School in Port Washington.
The Port Washington Police District (PWPD) was actively investigating the incident in partnership with school officials, the Nassau County Police Department and the Hate Crimes Unit of the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office. According to Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Michael Hynes, the images were removed by the time students reported to school that Monday morning.
On Wednesday, April 28, the PWPD released photos of an unidentified male who was seen in security footage at approximately 5:30 p.m. on the night of the anti-Semitic graffiti incident. The following morning, the PWPD released the following updated statement regarding their search for the unidentified male, “Yesterday evening PWPD detectives identified a suspect accused of spray-painting two swastikas on the Sousa Elementary School building. Photos of the suspect were distributed to the community through social media. The Department received information from community members through its tip line that helped identify the subject. PWPD detectives then located the suspect, placed him under arrest and charged him with multiple crimes including aggravated harassment in the first degree (paints a swastika) and criminal mischief third degree as a hate crime. The accused is a juvenile. Accordingly his identification is withheld. The charges are merely accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty. The PWWD wants to thank the Port Washington Community for their overwhelming support in providing tips which aided bringing this case to a successful resolution.”
This is the second time that anti-Semitic graffiti has been found in Port Washington. Last October, vandals spray-painted more than a dozen swastikas inside the Port Washington Police Athletic League (PAL) Clubhouse. The perpetrator of that crime was never discovered.
Dr. Hynes further stated in a letter to the community that the school district will be continuing to work with the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center (HMTC) of Nassau County to educate the students about the use of hate symbols.
“The district also partners with the Holocaust Museum and Tolerance Center and the HSA to continue educating our students on the lasting damage from symbols of hate,” Dr. Hynes said. “The district has a zero tolerance for offensive sentiments and places a strong emphasis on providing students with a platform to understand the values of inclusion through programs and discussions about the impacts of hate language and actions. All parents and students are encouraged to review the Resolution of Respect, which is a pillar of the Port Washington School District and reinforces our community’s stand against hate.”
Many local officials also released statements to the community immediately following the incident reiterating similar sentiments. The HMTC released a statement to the public stating that they were “deeply disturbed” to learn that this crime had occurred. “This incident further emphasizes the need to educate adults and young people on the history of the Holocaust and the lessons for how people should and must conduct themselves today,” The Holocaust Center said. “HMTC is prepared to continue to work with the students, teachers, staff and the community in Port Washington to safely and effectively deal with hateful actions like these.”
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran stated that “we must never allow hateful acts, whether they come in the form of graffiti or violence, to find comfort in our communities. We will respond by standing together to condemn anti-Semitism, and other forms of hatred that seek to divide us and turn us against each other. I also urge parents to educate youth about the value of diversity and tolerance, as well as the dark history behind symbols of hatred.”
Other elected officials spoke out about the need to come together as a community to speak out against anti-Semitism and hate crimes.
“Hatred and anti-Semitism will never be welcome in our community, and its incumbent on us all to speak out forcefully and unequivocally against it whenever we encounter it,” New York State Senator Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck) said.
Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth encouraged community leaders to denounce these types of “evil acts” and stated that the rise of hate crimes throughout the country is “extremely upsetting.”
“It is essential that all community leaders denounce these types of evil acts with displays of strength, unity and advocacy for all individuals regardless of their race, gender and religious beliefs,” Bosworth said. “That’s what our Not in our Town initiative is all about. Standing together as a community, we must continue sending a powerful message that we will not tolerate messages of hate in North Hempstead.”
On Thursday afternoon, after the alleged suspect was arrested, local officials and community leaders released statements commending the police departments for their hard work in helping to solve the crime.
“Thank you to the Port Washington Police Department and the community members who helped identify the subject,” Town of North Hempstead councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte said on her Facebook page.
Dr. Hynes released a statement to the community commending the Port Washington and Nassau County Police Departments for their “swift action” in apprehending the individual allegedly responsible for the hate crime.
“I’m incredibly proud of our staff and students for being instrumental throughout the process of identifying a student and peer to protect our community,” Dr. Hynes said. “As a school district and community, we must remain resolute in our commitment to zero tolerance of bigotry, hatred and discrimination in any and all of its forms. From our classrooms to our homes, we must continue to engage in dialogue to educate our children on the impact of such hateful acts and their repercussions. The District is focused on next steps to better confront this within our schools at a much deeper level.”