BIKE PATH VANDALISM: A Warning?
Updated: Jul 24
The Quonset bike path is one of the best parts of North Kingstown, a two and a half mile stretch running from Post Road to Calf Pasture Point beach in Mount View. Every day the path is filled with bikers, walkers and pets, all of them enjoying fresh air and sea breezes coming off the bay. But the peace was shattered this past week when vandals spray-painted signs along the route. Among the images left behind—a swastika splashed over a protected wildflower sign, and crude images of body parts and racist language.
According to WJAR, the images were discovered while still wet. They were quickly cleaned up and erased. A police spokesman, perhaps well intentioned, described the incident as isolated.
But is it? An alarming number of disturbing “incidents” have recently occurred in New England. In February, a group of neo-Nazis interrupted a book reading at a community library in Providence, shouting racial slurs and “white power.” Earlier this month, several men were stopped while distributing flyers for a group called National Socialist Club 131, an organization describing itself as a “pro white street-oriented fraternity dedicated to raising authentic resistance to the enemies of our people in the New England Area.” Similar flyers have been found in other communities, including Cranston, according to the Cranston police.
Let’s be clear: vandalism is a crime. Vandalism with an antisemitic or racial component is a crime punishable by mandatory jail time. This is not “harmless” behavior. It dehumanizes members of our community. And it demeans all of us.
It is also dangerous to dismiss anti-semitic and racist graffiti as “isolated.” It is clear that hate groups are reaching into our communities in hopes of recruiting new members and spreading divisive and toxic ideas. This is wrong, and cannot be tolerated.
Where does this behavior come from? It is born of ignorance and hate, stirred by right wing media and chat rooms, and froths over in places like Charlottesville, or Idaho, and yes, even on a sign along a bike path. What can be done? All of us need to recognize when it occurs, and speak out against it. But that alone may not be enough. We also need to make sure that our children understand the history of racism and anti-semitism in this country. A full, unvarnished and comprehensive understanding of the dangers posed by these ideas is something that should be part of every school curriculum.
My parents were part of a generation that stood up to Nazis and their vile rhetoric. I grew up as efforts to create equal rights for people of color were growing in America. But I genuinely fear that the division and hatred I have seen in the past decade is causing a backslide. We must not stand for it. Isolated or not, we must condemn every attempt to normalize hateful behavior.
The author is a lawyer, a former television reporter, and current candidate for the North Kingstown School Committee.