Board of Selectmen Chair Comments on RMHS Swastika Incident

On Monday, May 8th at approximately 4:42pm, I received an email notifying me of a swastika graffiti incident at the high school. At that time I was unaware of the backstory of this act and in the subsequent 60 minutes reached out to town resources to both alert and ask for help to understand. My request to Town Manager at this time was to ask for a full police investigation which was started and completed quickly late on May 9th.

My activities that week related to this subject are as follows:

I met with School Committee at their regular May 8th committee meeting where a Press statement from RMHS Principal Adam Bakr was made public;

I met with Chief Segalla, Deputy Chief Clark, and Lt. Detective Abate at a Wednesday, May 10th morning meeting to discuss the investigation, status and next steps;

I met with HRAC for 4 hours at their regular May 11th meeting where this subject was the primary topic;

I met with Superintendent John Doherty, School Committee Chair Jeanne Borawski, Assistant Superintendent Craig Martin, and Town Manager Bob LeLacheur in a one-hour status meeting on Friday May 12th at 2:00pm.

In all the above cases my involvement was both to understand the role for our Board and the Town and to assist the Schools as much as possible.

Reading School Department staff discovered graffiti of a crudely drawn swastika in a classroom, and Reading Schools are leading their own investigation of the perpetrators, with consequences and appropriate remediation to be determined by them.

Reading Police have completed their investigation. In the Board’s packets tonight and now posted on the Town’s website are 4 relevant public documents: (A) The Reading police report; (B) a group of photos described in the Police report; (C) the Memorandum of Agreement describing management for such events in the schools; and (D) a timeline the Town Manager and I developed to allow us both to understand sequence of events.

I’ve asked Superintendent John Doherty and School Committee Chair Jeanne Borawski to attend tonight at the start to provide updates as available and help with questions as time permits. Please be advised that John has a prior commitment this evening that he’s delaying his arrival for in order to be here, and he will depart around 7:20pm. Police Chief Mark Segalla and Deputy Police Chief Dave Clark may also have some comments of their own. The Town Manager may also describe briefly the timeline and what it contains.

For planning purposes, I will transition to the Board’s published agenda no later than 7:30pm. Before I turn it over to John and Jeanne I have a statement of my own to make public.

As you may know, the Swastika is an ancient religious symbol widely used in India and Asia. Its’ use dates back over 8,000 years before the birth of Christ. In the modern era, it was adopted by political organizations both in pre-World War 1 and most notably by the Nazi party and Nazi Germany prior to World War 2, and is highly stigmatized because of that association.

With Memorial Day around the corner, it’s entirely appropriate to also reflect on the human toll FROM war – such as those deaths which were a consequence of the Nazi Holocaust, away of the Theatre of War itself. The Nazi government was directly responsible for the deaths of 11 to 13 million men, women and children it viewed as undesirable, including:

Victims Killed
Jews 5.93 million [1]
Soviet POWs 2–3 million [2]
Ethnic Poles1.8–2 million [3][4][5]
Serbs 300,000–500,000[6][7]
Disabled 270,000 [8]
Romani 90,000–220,000 [9][10]
Freemasons 80,000–200,000 [11][12]
Slovenes 20,000–25,000 [13]
Homosexuals 5,000–15,000 [14]
Jehovah’s Witnesses 2,500–5,000 [15]
Spanish Republicans 7,000 [16]


This was a killing machine of monstrous proportions. The day following the liberation of Buchenwald Concentration camp on April 11, 1945, General George Patton arrived. He then requested Allied soldiers round up and compel the local citizens to come tour the camp to force local awareness – and to see with their own eyes the evil, the brutality, and depths of depravity wrought on innocent civilians.

The most common response by these local visitors? … “We didn’t know”

As an American, I view the ACT of defacing town property with symbols of the Nazi regime to intimidate or shock children or citizens as detestable. The act of defacing schools with such symbols is diametrically opposed to our values of Respect for all, Tolerance for differences, Civility in conduct, recognition of the dignity of human life and support of our Religious diversity.

The use of this symbol by an unknown person or persons intent on creating fear or anxiety should likewise be made public to all Reading citizens, to raise awareness of the original incident and provide knowledge of the resolution.

I would suggest that it is appropriate for this Board request our Human Relations Advisory Committee to propose some potential educational opportunities for the community and return back at a future date with proposals for discussion. If there are no objections – I’ll ask that it be done. (So moved and approved by a 4-0 vote)

John Arena
Board of Selectmen Chair


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